On Beyoncé's 'Homecoming', building a legacy, and what happens when we invest in Black women
“Do nothing without intention.”
This phrase has been swirling around in my mind for much of this spring and I was reminded of it again upon watching Homecoming, a concert film/behind-the-scenes documentary that tracks the eight months of rehearsals that went into putting on Beyonce’s epic 2018 Coachella (b/k/a Beychella) performance.
Given that I am such a process nerd, I actually would have loved to see even more of the rehearsals on those three soundstages, more of the meetings, the contents of a project binder flashed on the screen that looked like it weighs the same as a small child, more of the speeches Beyoncé gave to her creative team where she both expressed her frustration that her vision wasn’t being executed properly and her faith that they would get it right.
But seeing this took me back to that night in April, when I actually was in Los Angeles for work and streamed the entire performance on my laptop in the house I was staying in. Since I went to an HBCU (Howard to be precise: HU, You Know, etc.) I was positively thrilled to see the drumline, the dancers, the baton twirlers, the probate references, the stepping, the Greek letters on Beyoncé’s custom Balmain sweatshirt. It took me back to every spring when new recruits to the Omegas (aka Que Dogs), the Deltas, the AKAs, would strut and step on the yard. The football games where absolutely no one cared about the score because they were there for the halftime show. That one Yardfest where LL Cool J showed up for five seconds and told us all to meet him at Dream (a nightclub that no longer exists.) ResFest, where step teams from each dorm on campus competed and performed routines with Sean Paul and Ludacris blaring in the background at Cramton Auditorium.
It also encouraged me to hear Beyoncé say in voiceover how it was important for her to bring her culture to Coachella instead of putting on a flower crown and trying to fit in to the usual Coachella aesthetics and expectations. It was also heartening to hear voices and see quotes from some of the greatest thinkers of our time: in particular Toni Morrison (who went to Howard), Alice Walker, Nina Simone, and Maya Angelou. I know it had to have been intentional that the voices of these Black women were prioritized, because our voices are so often cast aside. My only quibble is that the Toni Morrison quote in the film: “if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it” was presented without context: it’s the last line of her 1977 novel Song of Solomon.
Too often the brilliance of Black women is downplayed, not invested in enough, and hidden altogether. Look at how long it took Kathleen Collins’ brilliant film Losing Ground to find proper distribution, long after Collins passed away. Never forget that Alice Walker paid for Zora Neale Hurston’s gravestone and brought her work back to the surface, long after Hurston passed away.
Don’t ignore the fact that in the present day, the Nia DaCostas and the Misha Greens and the Dee Reeses of Hollywood are consistently given smaller budgets and less resources than their male counterparts— and see the brilliance that shines through anyway.
But what if we didn’t have to do more with less? What if we were given the time and resources we needed to make the work we are called to make? That’s why I’m glad that a record of this performance—which is an unabashed celebration of HBCUs, Black culture, and especially Black women—exists on such a large and accessible platform. It gives us an idea of what things could look like when Black women are wholly invested in. (But also, please note how far Beyoncé still had to push herself, even with this time and money and support. Putting on a concert of this scope and scale in a year, after undergoing an emergency C-section to give birth to twins? While also taking care of a six-year-old child? While also working on an album and planning a tour with her husband? Whew. The twice-as-hard formula always seems to be in effect.)
Homecoming is ultimately a document that reminds us of the power of art and the power of investing in that art. Because what art can do is uplift us and encourage us to keep striving in our own endeavors in a world that is downright chaotic and scary. It’s a reminder to keep pushing and to build something that will outlast us and encourage future generations to tell their own stories, create their own art, to build their own legacies, well beyond our lifetimes.