THE ELEVATOR TAPE & ITS AFTERMATH
The infamous surveillance video, leaked by TMZ.
Saturday Night Live’s cold open sketch a week later, parodying JAY-Z (Jay Pharoah), Beyoncé (Maya Rudolph) and Solange (Sasheer Zamata) with their bodyguard (Kenan Thompson).
“We love each other and above all we are family. We’ve put this behind us and hope everyone else will do the same.”Exclusive statement to the Associated Press, released by the Knowles and Carter families
Tabloid speculation that persisted even after the couple’s press release attempting to dismiss the rumors.
Beyoncé’s April 16th, 2016 Instagram post. In it, we hear Beyoncé ask, ¨What am I gonna do, love?¨ before the title card announcing its forthcoming HBO release.
LEMONADE’S OPENING MOMENTS: A PROLOGUE
“She wanted to show the historical impact of slavery on black love, and what it has done to the black family.”Melina Matsoukas, one of Lemonade’s directors and Beyoncé’s longtime friend and collaborator
The opening shot of the film is followed by this black and white image of a chain filmed at a slave plantation in Louisiana, the first of many images that transport us back to America’s history of tortuous slavery. Low angle shots are used to emphasize power dynamics, and the extremity of the angle depicts the chain looming over the viewer, as if we’re the ones chained to the wall.
Fort Macomb, an intimidating Civil War era brick fortress that serves as a symbol throughout the film.
Left, a wide shot that demonstrates the fortress’s size and expanse; right, a canted angle gives viewers an implication of stress, intimidation, or uneasiness.
Beyoncé in front of the curtain on stage, which mimics a director addressing an audience before a performance. Like the fortress, behind the curtain is some truth to her story, and she is preparing us, and herself, for its reveal.
Beyoncé approaching the ruins, walking through tall grass and weeds surrounding Fort Macomb.
Beyoncé in a black hoodie, which seems to reference Trayvon Martin.
“I’m prey, you catch me.” Left, Beyoncé obscured in the tall grass and weeds, as if an animal being stalked; right, rack focus obscures and then centers on Beyoncé through the weeds. These images encapsulate the potential play on words between “pray” and “prey,” which would further display the power dynamics in her relationship.
CH. 1 – INTUITION
“Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes us both bruised and beautiful.”Beyoncé in Vogue Magazine, August 2018
The first chapter’s title card, a shot of the grounds of a Louisiana slave plantation.
Fort Macomb and the Slave Castles
The Elmina Castle Memorial Plaque, displayed outside an entry to the castle on the coast of Ghana.
Left, the ruins of Elmina Castle, juxtaposed against a vast sky as Fort Macomb is in Lemonade; right, the exterior of Elmina Castle
Black and white images of a stonewall tunnel outside of Fort Macomb; Two Black women in antebellum-style gowns stand and look toward the light beaming from the tunnel’s exit. This stonewall tunnel likely alludes to the West African slave castles and the horrific dungeons that held captive Africans before they were shipped and sold in the “New World.”
Left, a shot down a corridor at Elmina Castle; right, a brick corridor in Cape Coast Castle, both for comparison to Fort Macomb in Lemonade.
Haunted Grounds at Destrehan Plantation
“But doors lead to trap doors, a staircase leads to nothing.” Left, a black and white image of a woman in front of a house, gazing blankly into the distance. Right, an empty old wooden porch looking out at the slave quarters at Destrehan Plantation. The emptiness in each could reflect the empty promise of the American Dream to America’s Black citizens.
An assembly of women in white antebellum-style gowns on a plantation porch. These shots are preceded by the line, “Unknown women wander the hallways at night.” The images work with the poetry to establish these women as Beyoncé’s forebears, ancestors dating back to the 1800s.
“Unknown women wander the hallways at night“
Overlaid with the aforementioned line, this shot displays Spanish moss, common to the Gulf Coast region, hanging from otherwise naked tree branches somewhat like hair from a woman’s head. The symbol suggests the presence of the living spirits of the aforementioned forebears.
Beyoncé in an antique wooden bath tub with no water, hair wrapped in a tignon. Like her hoodie and the solid black tignon she wears in front of the curtain, this shot demonstrate her repression in these opening moments of the film.
Beyonce’s Leap of Faith
“I died and was reborn in my relationship, and the quest for self became even stronger.”Beyoncé in ELLE Magazine, January 2020
We see Beyoncé step barefoot to the roof’s ledge as the camera pans up to show her remove her hood, revealing her long curly hair, an intentional act of resistance, confrontation, and control.
Left, Beyoncé’s outstretched hands, palms turned upward; right, her leap from the top of the building, mimicking a cross. This religious imagery creates an intricate representation of power and healing through God, of sacrifice, death, but also resurrection.
BONUS MATERIALS: Episode References and Links
- The elevator tape in full from TMZ:
- Statement to the Associated Press May 15th, 2014
- SNL Cold Open May 17th, 2014
- Official HBO Lemonade Trailer:
- Guide to Wagner’s Ring Cycle from Chicago Lyric Opera
- Melina Matsoukas in The New Yorker, 2017
- President Barack Obama visits Cape Coast Castle in 2009:
- HD Tour of Cape Coast Castle:
- The Ghana Tourism Authority Cape Coast Castle visitor’s page
- Timelapse graphic representation depicting the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from slavevoyages.org
- Beyoncé’s Vogue Interview, 2018
- Beyoncé’s ELLE interview, 2020
- Portrait of Warsan Shire, New Yorker 2015
- Warsan Shire’s for women who are difficult to love – (the affirmation)
- Photo Credit, Elmina Castle Exterior: By Nkansahrexford – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link