by Aiano Nakagawa
“An artist’s duty as far as I’m concerned is to reflect the times. I think that is true for painters, sculptors, poets, musicians… As far as I’m concerned it’s their choice. But I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty. And this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people black and white know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will mold and shape this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So how can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.”
- Nina Simone
This quote is from What Happened Miss Simone, a Netflix Original documentary by Liz Garbus, documenting the life and career of Nina Simone, artist and civil rights activist.
As a non-black POC, Formation is not a reflection of my experience and was not written for me. However, as an artist, political person and opponent of injustice, it got my heart racing. As an Asian-American, I feel my only place in talking about Formation is to highlight the voices who are living this experience and speaking out. Please read, enjoy, think, and support these incredible writers!
Here’s a small compilation of articles written about “Formation” that have helped inform me of multiple views regarding Beyonce’s “Formation.”
1. Black Lives Matter Co-Founder to Beyonce: 'Welcome to the Movement'
"The lyrics of the song are complicated — and so is the movement itself. The images in the video conjuring the man-made tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, police violence, resistance and black life in the South showed that the Queen is multifaceted, complex, full of contradictions and black as hell. In it, she invokes Southern heritage, traditions and tragedy. She uses magic to remind us that we have the power to change the dynamics between police and the communities they're supposed to protect and serve.”
2. White People Shut Up About Beyonce
“In this cultural moment where powerful, mainstream Black artists like Beyoncé are telling their stories on their own terms, the white people who controlled the narrative– including how and when Black stories have been told– for the past 400 years need to sit back, shut up, and listen, listen, listen. You don’t like how white people are being portrayed? Spend some time thinking about why Black artists are portraying white people that way instead of demanding they adjust their stories to conform to your self-image as “the good guy.” We are not the heroes in these stories. We are not the intended audience. We are irrelevant, and there’s nothing people in power hate more than to be made irrelevant, but the fact remains that these are Black stories, by, for, and about Black people. You don’t like it? Don’t watch. But I recommend that you do, and give it some real thought. This is their truth. You do not get to dictate how Black artists see or portray their own lives.”
3. Southern Slayings
“Formation, is a different kind of resistance practice, one rooted in the epistemology of (and sometimes only visible/detectable to) folks on the margins of blackness. The political scientist Cathy Cohen talks about activism at these margins, the kind of deviance-as-resistance built and cultivated at the margins of respectable blackness. Formation, then, is a metaphor, a black feminist, black queer, and black queer feminist theory of community organizing and resistance. It is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins–woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disabled, undocumented, immigrant–before an overt action. For the black southern majorettes, across gender formulations, formation is the alignment, the stillness, the readying, the quiet, before the twerk, the turn-up, the (social) movement. To be successful, there must be coordination, the kind that choreographers and movement leaders do, the kind that black women organizers do in neighborhoods and organizations. To slay the violence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy, we must start, Beyoncé argues, with the proper formation.”
4. Getting in Line: Working Through Beyonce’s “Formation”
“Still shots of preaching reverends, half-drowned buildings, the weave shop, and plantation houses against a sparse synthesizer that sounds like a tweaked electronic banjo from the Bayou sonically position Beyoncé squarely in the middle of a messy Black South. Katrina is not just a historical event. It is a springboard for re-rendering southern trauma and its association with blackness. Trauma is the spring board of southern blackness. But its foundation is resilience and creativity.”
5. Formation” Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma
“While some people are gagging at the idea of Beyoncé atop a New Orleans Police Department squad car or sitting in a 19th-century living room in plaçage attire, I’m reliving trauma. I’m thinking about how the system failed us. I’m thinking about how the central government and the head of state left us to die. I could speak about the incompetence of some local leaders, the breakdown in communication of authorities, the lawlessness of police officers and troops. I could speak about the vicious racist vigilantes who hunted evacuees down like dogs for trying to secure safe ground for themselves and their families. But I don’t.”
These conversations are far from over. There are people who support Bey and people who don’t and that’s okay. This is not a neat, clean, and simple topic. This is the real shit.
Black Lives Matter co-founder, Alicia Garza, puts it best:
“Movements are multi-faceted, and never without contradictions. Even the most radical among us grapple with those contradictions. That's why, even with the criticisms — some of which I agree with — we as a movement should celebrate that we have helped organize arguably one of the most iconic celebrities in the world to use her extensive platform to celebrate black resistance, to place herself in history as one who is resisting, and who puts her money where her mouth is. It's not perfect, but none of us are.”