Beyoncé’s Homecoming is a concert film (and live album) of her 2018 Coachella festival performance, available for streaming on Netflix. The film differs from other documentaries Beyoncé has made, such as her 2013 “Life is but a Dream”, which looks more to Beyoncé’s personal life, focussing on the production and live performance of “Bey-chella”. The film collates the two weekends of Beyoncé’s performances, with differences only appearing in costume. The coalescence of the opening of her performances is most impressive. The shots cut between the two performances in the middle of songs, in the middle of lines even, and yet the images flow together seamlessly with such precision that it seems the colour change of her outfits has been edited into the film afterwards. Beyoncé’s outfit changes were clearly selected with consideration to their subsequent cinematic collaboration to highlight the already impeccable synchronisation and accuracy of the shows. More than 100 dancers move as one body of movement: one unsurpassed strength. Beyoncé had clearly curated the two shows with the film version at the forefront of her mind, showing her dedication to ensuring her performance could be accessible to everyone around the world to share, enjoy, and be a part of.
Beyoncé is the writer, director, and executive producer of Homecoming. Although she undeniably leads the stage, it is as much about her troop as it is about her. Every aspect of the performance process has a place, from the band, to the dancers, to the creative team behind the scenes. In backstage sections of the film, we see Beyoncé talking about how she directs the rehearsals and watches as an audience, explaining the drive to make sure that “everyone out there can feel what we feel”. It is not just about bringing the energy to the stage, but about bring the energy to the camera too. In the rehearsals, you can see the sweat and the hard work that has gone into perfecting the spectacle. Beyoncé talks about how she had been 218lb when she went through the difficult birth of her twins, only 10 months before her performance. She details her restrictive diet leading up to the festival and how she had to balance motherhood with demanding rehearsal schedules. Yet, the carefully edited performance ensures Beyoncé is not shown as sweaty or tired, but with a sense of perfection that matches the vocals, band, and dancers. What is endearing is that we are allowed to see both halves: we see the perfection, and yet we see the struggle. She wakes up flawless, and yet shows that it is not possible to wake up flawless. We witness what the human body is capable of when pushed to the limit. And what’s more, this is not shown through science, but through performance; this is one of the most spectacular exhibitions of all time.
The performance is fierce. There are no forced smiles, but expressions of power, tension, pride, and passion, which support her feminist lyrics. Beyoncé has often faced criticism for not being a “true feminist”. Arguments discuss her emphasis on being “sexy” within the male gaze and the showing off of too much skin as fuelling the commodification of the black female body. However, these arguments miss the point entirely. We are all guilty feminists. There is something very incredible, and yet something very credible about Beyoncé. In her performance of “Hold Up” in the film, there is a section where she sings to the back of the stage, the audience left with a view of her backside. But that is a choice she has made. She owns her sexualisation. I often dance in clubs in a way which could be considered “raunchy” or “provocative”. But, really, what do these words even mean when it comes to feeling the beat of the music and expressing yourself through dance? Quite frankly, it is my choice to do whatever I want with my limbs. The body is not made to be sexy, it is made to be human. Beyoncé reminds that if you can move your body in a certain artistic way, then why not? As the lyrics of her 2006 song, “Get Me Bodied”, say: “I ain’t worried, doing me tonight / A little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody / While y’all standin’ on the wall / I’m the one tonight gettin’ bodied.” Because that’s just it, Beyoncé has taught me not to worry about doing me.
Beyoncé was, is, and will always be my idol. As a young mixed raced female, seeing Beyoncé on the TV was a truly inspiring figure growing up. When I watched the Netflix film, I was overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling of pride and love to be a woman of colour. Beyoncé says in the film that, “as a black woman, [she] felt like the world wanted [her] to stay in [her] little box”. Throughout her career, Beyoncé has strived to climb out of these boxes. In 2011, Beyoncé split from her father as her manager to set up her own management company, Parkwood Entertainment. By 2013, we have the iconic Mrs. Carter Show world tour posters showing Beyoncé dressed as a queen. Beyoncé doesn’t tell you she’s going to do something big, she just does it. She dresses like a queen and tells you to “bow down bitches”. Her career has paved the way from “Independent Women” (Destiny’s Child 2001) to “Run the World” (2011), which ultimately lead to more recent tracks such as “Freedom” (2016). The Coachella rendition of her 2003 song “Me, Myself and I” encapsulated her drive to be independent and, above all, to be herself. As she walks out and smiles directly to the audience, you sense the feelings of both a strong independence and yet, an unbreakable solidarity she feels with the people she sings to.
In “Life is but a Dream”, Beyoncé acknowledges that with such commercial success, it’s often hard to look to the future and know how to grow. With performances from Jay-Z, Solange, and Destiny’s Child, her Coachella performance felt like the growth of many years of dedication and hard work, a growth which I feel privileged to have witnessed and been inspired by throughout my life. She combines the old with the new; her performance of “Drunk in Love” is intertwined with choreographed chanting of the line “To the left, to the left, / Everything you own in the box to the left” from her 2006 single “Irreplaceable”. Her work is both autobiographical and artistic, her albums having taken us on a journey from “Crazy in Love”, to “Drunk in Love”, to “Love Drought”. Her 2016 album “Lemonade”, having suffered this “Love Drought”, attends its own Homecoming when Beyoncé ends her Coachella spectacle, having done full circle, with none other than ‘Love on Top’, which she dedicates to the fans of her “Beyhive”. If you haven’t seen Beyoncé’s film, whether you are a fan or not, I highly recommend watching it. Heartwarming and energetic, it leaves you with a combined feeling of awe, adoration, and aspiration. A must watch!