So first of all, I’m going to preface this post by stating that if you haven’t seen Beyonce’s “Lemonade” yet, you’re behind on your pop culture. I’m not going to explain everything that happens in this new visual album, but if you need a refresher you can look here.
Instead, this is a post about how the entire film brings forth the forgotten narrative of the Southern black woman and why it is so important that every aspect of our media pick up where Lemonade left off.
Watching Lemonade resulted in a ton of emotions for me. The Gothic images of the South juxtaposed with so many beautiful, powerful black women was breathtaking to view.The narrative of southern black women has been left unexplored by our modern media apart from (great) films like Mississippi Damned. When we think of black women today we so often think of poor, urban women and the rich suburban women in shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
The aforementioned narratives are definitely relevant, but there is no narrative so connected with the roots of African-Americans strife in this country than that of the Southern black woman. By setting Lemonade in the mansions of former plantations and despairingly gorgeous wooded areas, one is reminded of the things that once happened in these places — beatings, lynchings, being worked to the bone….
The horrors that once occurred in these rural areas had lasting effects on the psyche of the African American family. The lyrics of many of the songs on Lemonade are purposely written to remind the viewer of those lasting effects. We also see images of New Orleans underwater after the government neglected to ensure the safety of its inhabitants. We see the mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and more after their children have been killed by police officers. We hear a black woman discuss her love for God in a world of uncertainty. We hear Malcolm X’s 1962 speech Who Taught You To Hate Yourselves.
This collection of images and audio treats the viewer to the experiences of Southern black women who are still experiencing the same thoughts, feelings, trials, and tribulations that their grandmothers experienced when those plantations certainly couldn’t be rented out by a rich, black music artist.
And then, Beyonce launches into the tenth track on Lemonade, titled “Freedom”.
A collaboration with Kendrick Lamar (whose last album was very much about black empowerment and struggles), Freedom is an anthem of change. The song is accompanied by images of black women, dressed in white, dancing, eating, and healing together. Beyonce sings, passionately, “Freedom, freedom, I can’t move! Freedom! Cut me loose!”
While at first the song seems to be about her freedom from the transgressions of Jay-Z (Or even her father), by the time you reach Lamar’s rap verse it is clear that this isn’t the case. During Lamar’s section, he discusses the pain of black mothers and what they must do to help their sons, the hypocritical nature of the government, and the media response to Black Lives Matter.
The song is amazingly powerful, and I can see it being used as an anthem for those who are striving to change America, and make it a better place for people of color and other marginalized groups. However, “Freedom” shouldn’t end there.
Our media is often criticized as unrepresentative, but few people in positions to change our media are actively educating themselves on the narratives of the underrepresented. Personally, I think Lemonade could be potentially useful as an educational tool for those who control media in any way. If our media are ever going to become representative, we must begin by understanding how all people feel — music and film are a great place to start exploring the stories of others. Maybe, just maybe, if more of the people in power were to watch Lemonade or Mississippi Damned, or even comedies like Dope, we wouldn’t have as many media mishaps. Maybe Snapchat wouldn’t come out with a filter that looks like blackface, maybe Facebook would create more temporary profile filters when non-European countries experience a tragedy, maybe news stations would be less quick to criticize rioters and instead choose to bring those rioters into the newsroom to talk about their grievances, maybe brands wouldn’t imply that black men must re-civilize themselves .
Finally, if people in media can understand all of those concepts, maybe they can understand why “Freedom” is so important to people who look like me.