Beyoncé has always been an artist with the aim to empower whether that be to empower women, to empower races, or to empower her audience in general. At the beginning of this year came her latest motion of empowerment with the release of Formation but was empowerment really what she achieved? Formation tackled current issues that no other artists have the audacity to even address such as police brutality, the injustices of hurricane Katrina and the inequalities between races from history and present in modern society today. The accompanying music video directed by Melina Matsoukas, sparked controversy among critics and state police alike, however she has been applauded by many for making such a political standpoint in an era where the media has arguably the greatest influence of all.
The music video opens with a shot of Beyoncé herself on the roof of a state police car which is being submerged by the surrounding floods. The shot is used in reference to the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The hurricane quickly became one of the five deadliest hurricanes of US history and drastically affected area of the Southern and Eastern states of America, New Orleans being an area particular as referenced in the lyrics. During the floods, many believed that the aid provided by the US government to those living in poverty and on lower ground was lacklustre and if it was middle class citizens in that position they would’ve received a higher level of support. Therefore, through the use of the shot Beyoncé is trying to connote how the uselessness of the police and state officials in dealing with the floods – hence the police car being immobile in the middle of the water – while also insinuating that she has more power than the police force through her positioning above the car.
Another significant shot representing a piece of history comes from the dance (shown at 2.27) creating the formation of an X. While it could be seen as a dance in protest, almostlike a warrior march, I think it is a representation of the significant humanitarian and freedom fighter, Malcolm X. One of Malcom X’s greatest achievements was the Unity Rally he led in Harlem in 1960. A notorious extract from his speech reads “We are gathered here rallying for the freedom which we have long been promised, but have as yet not received. This Rally is for that perfect freedom which up until now this government has not granted us. There would be no need to protest to the government if we were already free.” Thisextract was in reference to the oppression Black people faced in America in the 1950’s by the Government and mirrors much of the message Beyoncé is trying to illustrate in our modern day society; the government promises freedom and equality but this is not the reality.
A final and what I believe to be the most powerful image is the scene of the young boy dancing in front of a row of armed officers. This image is hard-hitting and needs no explanation as to why it is so effective in reflecting the current topical issue of Black Lives Matter that ultimately is what the music video is channelling. The imagery of a child connotes innocence, and the idea of dancing connotes expression. The child is therefore a metaphor of the entire Black Lives Matter campaign. In the US, approximately 780 people have been killed this year alone and the number is rising every day. 25% of these killings are black people and campaigners argue a large percentage of these are unlawful killings with Black males aged 15-34 nine times more likely to be shot than any other demographic. Victims include Tony Robinson (March 6th 2015) shot three times over reportsof someone disrupting traffic, he was unarmed; Rumain Brisbon (2nd December 2014) shot after an officer mistook his medication bottle for a weapon, he was unarmed; and Tamir Rice (November 22nd 2014) who at the age of 12 was shot and killed after officers mistook his toy for a weapon, once again unarmed. This is a tiny percentage of the staggering number killed as a result of police brutality in recent decades. Race is now a trigger for police intervention and that is exactly what this shot represents. These people are innocent and these people should be able to live and express themselves, just as the child pictured is without police Beyonce halts Hampden show to pay tribute to black police shooting victimsintervention or police brutality.
Beyoncé has since took the Black Lives Matter campaign and her message to the world stage…literally. When Beyoncé speaks people listen and she has used her platform of over 77 million followers to post messages honouring victims such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile while also urging fans to take action. On the 7th July 2016 at her sold out stadium show in Glasgow she halted her performance to hold a minutes silence in memory of that week’s victims and paid tribute to all the Black lives lost through a visual display in front of her 50,000 strong audience. She followed up by a performance of her song ‘freedom’ and was appraised by fans for her audacity to take a stand with some taking to social media to express their emotion regarding her powerful message.
Ultimately, Beyoncé is an artist willing to push boundaries and as one of the 21st century’s most iconic performers she is using her influence to address and strive for a cause she believes in. It is expected she will continue to find ways in addressing racial injustice and will continue to draw attention to how important Black Lives Matter truly is.