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How black feminist writers contributed to Beyonce's 'Homecoming' celebration of African culture

Netflix documentary 'Homecoming' offers an in-depth look into the performance that made history, as QueenBey became the first ever Black woman to headline Coachella
UPDATED APR 30, 2019

"If you surrender to the air, you can ride it."

Beyonce's Netflix documentary 'Homecoming' starts with this quote by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison from her 1977 novel, 'Song of Solomon', and as the documentary progresses, it turns out to be a plethora of Black scholarly history, unraveling tastefully through Beyonce's historical Coachella performance from April 2018.

The documentary offers an in-depth look into the performance that made history, as QueenBey became the first ever Black woman to headline Coachella. It also sheds light on the effort that went into making the performance historic, with backstage footage and Beyonce's own recordings.

Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018, in Indio, California. (Getty Images)

The documentary that Netflix tagged as "a film by Beyoncé" has the Beychella performance of 'Crazy In Love' and 'Formation' at its very beginning, which then dissolves into shots of how the performance was put together. African American musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone's voiceover plays over a part of Beyoncé’s Coachella rehearsals, which spanned a period of eight months. "To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world, Black people," Simone can be heard saying.

The documentary perfectly captures the essence of Beychella, a celebration of Black culture. "Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture," she says of the festival experience.

"Beyonce's ability to be unapologetically Black is integral to the African-American community, and especially to young Black women. The 'Homecoming' Netflix special was created with the specific intent to empower a community, and this objective speaks to who Beyonce is as an iconic strong Black female," said Elizabeth Ogundare, a Black student at the Ontario Tech University, in conjunction with Sharon Lauricella, Associate Professor at Ontario Tech University, in a joint statement.

The performance was a marching-band-fueled tribute to the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) of America, and built on the Black-feminist themes in 'Lemonade'. The film, written, directed and executive produced by Beyonce, interweaves quotes from multiple Black authors, historians, and public thinkers into footages of her performances and rehearsals, to form a powerful, stirring narrative. Nina Simone is just the beginning. The documentary goes on to quote distinguished Black feminist writers like Alice Walker and Maya Angelou.

American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and activist Nina Simone (1933 - 2003), UK, 14th September 1979. (Getty Images)

"Even in preparing for the Coachella production, she tells her dancers, musicians, and singers, 'I want us doing the same thing' and makes it very clear that she wants to bring the Black culture to Coachella.  Beyonce makes a call for solidarity and to 'feel each other's energy' not just in preparation, but also in the performance and in the Black community," Elizabeth added in the statement.

"I wanted a Black orchestra. I wanted the steppers. I needed the vocalists. I wanted different characters," Bey can be heard saying on the documentary. The documentary brings together 200 performers, celebrating the idea of community and the tradition of social dancing, which forms an important part of African culture. Beyonce also talks about how she always wanted to attend an HBCU, but instead, 'Destiny's Child' became her higher education. The artist established a scholarship program for HBCU students after her Coachella performance. Fittingly, W.E.B. Du Bois is quoted in the documentary: "Education must not simply teach work — it must teach life."

The documentary also features a quote from acclaimed novelist and poet Alice Walker: "Our mothers and grandmothers…moving to music not yet written." Walker, like Morrison and many other Black writers, went to an HBCU (Spelman College in Atlanta). She is most known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 'The Color Purple', which is considered a classic of subaltern feminism.

Maya Angelou speaks onstage during the 34th Annual AWRT Gracie Awards Gala at The New York Marriott Marquis on June 3, 2009, in New York City. (Getty Images)

The iconic Maya Angelou, whose distinct voice was used in 'Homecoming's trailer too, comes back at the end of the documentary, in a quote: "What I really want to do is be a representative of my race, of the human race."

"I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be," she can be heard saying in the audio note, taken from one of the last interviews she gave before her death in 2014. Angelou's 1969 autobiography 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' brought her international fame and recognition. In the trailer, Angelou imparts some advice for the present generation, to "tell the truth to yourself first, and to the children."

"Beyonce encourages her 'Queens' – the strong females in the audience – by asking, 'Are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough of the bullshit?' There is no doubt that Beyonce continues to be the reflection of greatness every young Black female needs to see within themselves," Elizabeth added.