Formation

Beyoncé crouches on the hood of a police car halfway submerged in flood water that extends to the horizon, an image intended to recreate the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This is the opening shot of the “Formation” music video. While much of the settings in and around New Orleans have focused on “the curse” and its history, this image places “the curse” in more present day context.

A closeup of Beyoncé leaning on her side atop the police car, delivering the opening refrain.

Left, the paparazzi overwhelm the frame in number and with flash photography, followed by footage of a bounce dancer performing in a mirror and Beyoncé commandingly posed on the car over the lines “…catch my fly and my cocky fresh” (right). This shows Beyoncé in control of her narrative in the face of the public gaze.

Left, Beyoncé rocking back and forth in unison with a troupe of female dancers in an ornate plantation house hallway; right, a French Renaissance style painting of regal Black women which, according to director Melina Matsoukas, was added to “Blackify” the mansion.

Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy (center), with her hair in an Afro, poses with a smirk and a hand on her hip alongside two other young Black girls in white dresses. Portraying Blue Ivy proudly rocking her Afro affirms her daughter just as she is in the face of public scrutiny of her natural hair, deemed by some “unruly” for a child from a family of such wealth and status.

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Ch. 11 – Redemption (All Night)

“HOPE” RECAP

The grounds of Destrehan Plantation, turned into a place of communal healing and a celebration of strength through art and expression, the song “Freedom” an emblazoned anthem of resistance, strength, and collective empowerment.


CH. 11 – REDEMPTION

The titlecard, where three young Black girls run through a front door onto a massive lawn toward a white picket fence gate surrounding Madewood Plantation, which earlier represented the idyllic promises of heaven and the American dream.

Two Black women open a curtain to reveal various Black women freely strolling through the grounds at Destrehan Plantation.

Shots of women walking freely on the grounds, sharing a meal and laughing in contrast with those from Chapter 1 at the same setting, where many of the same women were eerily subdued and silent.

Left, a shot of Beyoncé’s feet, a suggestion of modesty and their pose, alike that of a ballerina in point shoes and a suggestion of gentleness; right, a tree adorned with Spanish moss is shown over her shoulder.

Beyoncé sits with hands folded, contemplative; considering the symbolic value of the trees and moss she gazes with the spoken word poetry, “Grandmother, the alchemist,” the suggestion is Beyoncé is contemplating the legacy and spirit of not only her ancestors, but the entirety of ancestral spirit of Black women in America.

Beyoncé with a young girl whose tightly coiled curly hair matches her own; they run their fingers through each other’s, teasing, and smiling, Beyoncé in a maternal role instilling the young girl with a sense of confidence and pride.

Left, overlaid with the poetry “Broke the curse with your own two hands,” a close-up of grandmotherly hands that are revealed to be those of Leah Chase, “The Queen of Creole Cuisine” featured earlier in Lemonade; right, a young girl plays with a doll and the camera pans to reveal Beyoncé behind Ms. Chase, brushing her hair in an act of reverence. Three generations of women smile as they engage in conversation with one another.

Beyoncé stares out from a porch, and the camera cuts to the children running toward the Madewood gate. Perhaps, having become a mother herself, she realizes it is her turn now to pass along the wisdom from her grandmother to the next generation.


Grandmother, the alchemist

JAY-Z’s mother Hattie during a speech at her 90th birthday party, which reveals the meaning of the film’s title: “I had my ups and downs, but I always found the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”

Left, the lights on the floor reveal the real life context for Hattie’s speech; right, Blue Ivy plays with a boy as they listen to Grandma Hattie deliver her speech.

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Ch. 10 – Hope (Freedom)

“RESURRECTION” RECAP

Beyoncé (center) with Wanda Johnson, Gwen Carr, Sybrina Fulton, and Lesley McSpadden, mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown (respectively). Their shared grief over their sons’ tragic deaths connects them as the so-called “Mothers of the Movement” against police brutality and injustice. Their activism, in the words of Gwen Carr, “…transformed their mourning into movement, and pain into purpose.”

The penultimate image of the chapter, a Mardi Gras Indian circles an empty dining room table, shaking a tambourine as part of a healing ritual.

The chapter’s final image, a black and white shot of Beyoncé with a group of Black women inside a Jim Crow era school bus, the same women and setting from “Apathy.” With poet Warsan Shire’s utterance of the word “magic” over the image, we consider the obvious nod to the idea of “Black girl magic.”


CH. 10 – HOPE

“The women of the past in Beyoncé’s Lemonade attempt to rewrite the tragic stories they’ve inherited through art. They dance. They sing. They cook…This is how we try to birth beauty through pain.”

Author Jesmyn Ward

Previously depicted as despondent, paralyzed, and silenced, here in “Hope,” the women occupy the tiny cabin with beauty, color, and feminine grace, giving the impression of solidarity and self-sustaining community as the women nourish themselves and care for one another.

With the opening note of the chapter’s song “Freedom,” the camera pushes forward into the room as if we, the viewers, are walking into the room ourselves. As we center on a Black baby sucking her thumb, the baby looks directly at “us.” She is the future, occupying a space of the past, in this present moment.

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Ch. 9 – Resurrection (Forward)

“FORGIVENESS” RECAP

Beyoncé at her most vulnerable, inside an intimate apartment, recording the song “Sandcastles” seated on the floor at a keyboard.

Beyoncé reunited with her husband, confronting the tears and scars and reconciling through forgiveness. Having restored her relationship, she will turn to healing communal wounds.

CH. 9 – RESURRECTION

A large tree covered in Spanish moss at Destrehan Plantation, a setting previously seen in Lemonade’s opening chapter. The site holds the memory of communal resistance and horrific violence, as the site of the trial for the 1811 German Coast Uprising.

An assembly of women in front of the tree at Destrehan, similar to images from Chapter 1.

A collection of shots from Chapter 1, the “unknown women” intended to symbolize Beyoncé’s forebears and an acknowledgement of her ancestry.

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Ch. 8 – Forgiveness (Sandcastles)

“REFORMATION” RECAP

Beyoncé was joined in her journey by a procession of Black women. Together they stood knee deep in baptismal waters and raised their arms as if to take flight from an inherited cultural prison. Together they created the conditions that make “glorious healing” possible.

Beyoncé in a white dress reborn from the baptismal waters gently lapping on the shore.

CH. 8 – FORGIVENESS

We transition from the black and white dominant visuals into a noticeably more warm, colorful interior space. Left, a welcoming fire; right, bare feet walk toward the camera, implying Beyoncé has come in from the cold. She’s home now.

Left, old photos in frames on a dresser, a reminder of Beyoncé’s ancestry and forebears; right, the album cover of Nina Simone’s 1967 album Silk & Soul, where rack focus first centers on the cover itself then shifts to emphasize the record spinning, calling attention to The Look of Love playing beneath Beyoncé’s spoken word poetry.

“Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes us both bruised and beautiful.”

Beyoncé in VOGUE, August 2018

A cracked bowl, reassembled in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which translates to “golden repair,” a perfect symbol for Lemonade‘s approach to glorious healing, bruised and beautiful, golden cracks, lemonade from lemons.

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Ch. 7 – Reformation (Love Drought)

“ACCOUNTABILITY” RECAP

In Accountability, Beyoncé reflected on her upbringing, specifically her relationship with her gun-wielding, whiskey drinking, cowboy type father figure. Left, a young girl rides a horse accompanied by an adult male, juxtaposed with Beyoncé riding her own horse with a male companion trailing behind (right). These consecutive shots imply the passing of time, her connection to her roots, as well as her growing independence.

In the above consecutive shots, the masculine posturing, stoicism and aggression compared via quick cut to a caring father lifting a young daughter into his arms depicts her father has been socialized as many men are: to be a strong, powerful protector who shows no sign of weakness.

If it wasn’t before, it is obvious now that the aggression, violence, and retributive justice model Beyoncé displayed in the first half of the film have been established as learned behaviors passed down from her father.


CH. 7 – REFORMATION

“I began to search for deeper meaning when life began to teach me lessons I didn’t know I needed.”

Beyoncé in ELLE, December 2019

Beyoncé in an empty Mercedez-Benz Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Lying in the fetal position, wearing a white lace dress, she rests her head on her elbow, visibly despondent, clutching her stomach.

Compare Beyoncé’s pose on the field at the Superdome to her in the chapter “Emptiness” (left) and again here in “Reformation” (right). Her grief and emptiness have carried on into a third consecutive chapter, where she will seek to restore and reform her relationship.

Beyoncé’s wedding ring returns to her hand, a reversal of the gesture we saw in the chapter “Anger;” right, a woman on the porch of Madewood plantation waits for someone to “come home.”

Beyoncé peers through the window to reveal a white picket fence gate and a bright white sky above it; this gate at once potentially symbolizes the “Pearly Gates,” the entryway to heaven, but also the “white picket fence” synonymous with the “American Dream.”

The same gate from the opposite perspective (courtesy of Splendid Market); given that this is the gate surrounding Madewood Plantation, the implication is the historical exclusion of African Americans from the “American Dream.”

Continue reading “Ch. 7 – Reformation (Love Drought)”

Ch. 6 – Accountability (Daddy Lessons)

“EMPTINESS” RECAP

Left, the camera zooms out from the burning house, emblematic of the curse; right, the camera continues to recede in the next shot, this time travelling backward through a Louisiana Bayou. These two shots help the viewer travel from the haunted house in chapter 5 back to Madewood Plantation for chapter 6.

CH. 6 – ACCOUNTABILITY

“I come from a lineage of broken male-female relationships, abuse of power, and mistrust. Only when I saw that clearly was I able to resolve those conflicts in my own relationships.”

Beyonce, Vogue Magazine September 2018

Left, the grounds of Madewood Plantation from the perspective of the master bedroom; right, two young Black girls, a symbol of the future, run up the stairs of the plantation house, a symbol of the past.

Left, two young Black girls playing with dolls on the bed; right, the hands of the girls fixing their dolls dress and jumping on a bed. They represent one of many generations of Black women quite literally overcoming the past by healing in this historical place.

A young girl watches Beyoncé’s beauty routine admiringly, and the spoken word implies a yearning to see herself in the same image.

New Orleans chef and activist Leah Chase, otherwise known as “The Queen of Creole Cuisine,” an iconic representation of the strength, resilience, and wisdom of generations of Black women who “cannot be contained.”

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Ch. 5 – Emptiness (6 Inch)

“APATHY” RECAP

Beyoncé dancing with her girlfriends, claiming “I ain’t thinking about you.” These acts and symbols establish a reclamation of power and agency in the face of the Madewood Plantation, an “impossible Black place.”

The final shot of “Apathy,” a group of five women walking into the wilderness, naked, symbolizing both courage and vulnerability as Beyoncé embarks on a new path, “far away” from her husband.


CH. 5 – EMPTINESS

Beyoncé as Pomba Gira

Left, Beyoncé encircled in fire, adorned with a blood red dress, a metallic bib necklace, and a spiked, bejeweled headpiece; right, a depiction of the Afro Brazilian spirit, Pomba Gira. Followers of Brazilian religions Umbanda and Quimbanda call upon Pomba Gira to aid them in matters of love, sex, and vengeance.


The long hallway

After a black screen and the sound of a door unlocking, the camera enters this long, eerie hallway, centered on an ominous red light at the end of it. Perhaps symbolic of “the curse,” the heart of the legacy of slavery and its inter-generational wounds inflicted upon the identities and relationships of African Americans.

The “House of Slaves” on Goree, an island off the coast of Senegal, the site of “The Door of No Return.” This doorway, opening out the Atlantic Ocean, is observed today as a symbol of the final threshold enslaved Africans passed through before boarding slave ships embarking on the tortuous Middle Passage to the Americas.

President Barack Obama looks out the “Door of No Return” during a tour of the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy). The site has also been visited by Pope John Paul II as well as Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The camera dollies forward, giving the viewer a sense of compulsion and helplessness, drawn powerlessly forward toward this curse at the end of the tunnel.


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Ch. 4 – Apathy (Sorry)

“ANGER” RECAP

Beyoncé unleashing her rage, reclaiming her agency, and demanding the respect of her partner through a series of boasts, threats, and ultimatums, culminating in a “final warning,” where she throws her wedding ring at the camera.


CH. 4 – APATHY

Two rows of Black women seated inside a school bus, swaying back and forth, their faces and bodies covered in Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo’s “The Sacred Art of the Ori.

Left, From NPR.org, members of the Washington Freedom Riders Committee prepare to leave New York for Washington, D.C., on May 30, 1961; right, from UC Berkley News, a Montgomery bus rides nearly empty as a result of the boycotts.

Overlaid with the line “Her God was listening,” a subtle suggestion that God is silent but present for Beyoncé’s suffering, one of many glimpses of hope for redemption.

Continue reading “Ch. 4 – Apathy (Sorry)”

Ch. 3 – Anger (Don’t Hurt Yourself)

“DENIAL” RECAP

Beyoncé as first a sleeping, silent, and suppressed servant and then emerging as the powerful, life-giving goddess Oshun.

Left, her denial transitions to rage and destruction, culminating with a vicious knockout blow of the camera and then, right, Beyoncé stampeding a row of cars in a monster truck.


CH. 3 – ANGER

“Anger stirs and wakes in her…There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging.”

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

The Edna Karr High School marching band in streets of Algiers, a section of New Orleans also known as the 15th Ward. For nearly 150 years, this area served as the location where captive Africans were held before being sold into a lifetime of slavery.

As the murder revenge fantasy is described in poetry, the camera winds ominously down a dark stairwell to the chapter’s main setting: an underground parking garage.


Malcolm X’s Interjection

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

Malcolm X, May 5, 1962

The words of Malcolm X at the funeral of Ronald Stokes are laid over visual portraits of everyday Black women on the streets in Louisiana. Their strength is silently yet effectively acknowledged as they stand strong, beautiful, and resilient despite their mistreatment.


Beauty, Struggle, and Strength

The black and white images of a circle of women underground, gowns tied together at the wrist, implies a shared struggle, one that binds them all. Their movements are individualized above, but inextricably linked.

Their movements go from being individual to now being in unison; their dress and unity representing the beauty and resilience Black women share.


Beyoncé’s Dominance and Aggression

Here we are confronted by Beyoncé for the first time in the chapter, shot from a low angle to show power. As she approaches the camera, it recedes further away, as if intimidated or emasculated by Beyoncé’s direct approach and confrontation.

Continue reading “Ch. 3 – Anger (Don’t Hurt Yourself)”