University of Wisconsin–Madison

Embracing Identity in “Homecoming”

In her new Netflix documentary Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé, which gives us a look into the process and work put into her 2018 Coachella show, Beyoncé says “When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella.” As the first African-American woman to headline Coachella since it was started in 1999 she did just that. She pays tribute to many significant African-American figures throughout the film and performance, integrating quotes and their message into her own statements. The theme of her performance is Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which work to preserve and nurture black culture – something Beyoncé aims to do through her art and performance.

The themes of the documentary connect to Karen Coats’ Keyword essay on “Identity” which discusses how in postmodern culture, identity “emerges at the nexus of a set of discourses – of race, gender, ethnicity, class and so on . . .” This intersection of what makes up one’s identity includes topics of both gender and race. One’s identity influences how you experience the world around you. Children seeing representations of themselves in literature and popular culture can greatly influence their outlook and affirm their feelings and identity. We see that in both Morrison’s book and Beyoncé’s documentary. In the film Beyoncé’s daughter, Blue Ivy, sings part of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem, deepening the connection between generations and identity. Homecoming opens with a quote from Toni Morrison, “If you can surrender to the air, you can ride it.” Beyoncé is providing a reference point while paying to Black intellectual history, drawing together a community where black people can embrace that aspect of their identity.

In Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” we see a connection to identity and community with the central figures in the work. Claudia, Frieda and Pecola have a strong childhood relationship and are part of a larger, shared identity with other black girls. Their experience of black girlhood as part of their identity is a communal one and is seen as a point of reference for them. Morrison emphasizes black girls’ significance by centering their voices in the telling of their own stories. They are able to identify with each other and individually recognize their significance. In both of their positions as prominent black female figures Morrison and Beyoncé are using their platform to call attention to the beauty of black culture and identity.

2 thoughts on “Embracing Identity in “Homecoming””

  1. It’s impressive to see Beyoncé challenging the typical “festival culture” of sparkles and flower crowns associated with Coachella and other music festivals in favor of giving her own culture the visibility it deserves. Obviously, Beyoncé is a hugely popular public figure and the reach her voice has, both literally and figuratively, is tremendous. Using her documentary to preserve and nurture black culture allows for the creation of a sense of a communal identity that African-Americans can be proud of. It’s also interesting that Beyoncé included a Toni Morrison quote in the documentary, especially since we just finished reading “The Bluest Eye” in class. It’s an additional example of promoting and showing pride in a notable figure that has contributed to the shaping of identity for African-Americans.

  2. I really like your intersection of identity and community and how prominent black women such as Toni Morrison and Beyonce are using their “popular” platforms to bring attention to the beauty in black culture and identity. It is crazy to me that Beyonce was the first African-American woman to perform at Coachella in the 20 years it has been around. I find it really cool that Beyonce included a quote from Toni Morrison in her documentary. From reading your analysis of how these works are comparable and from reading The Bluest Eye, I am really eager to watch Beyonce’s documentary and learn more about how she uses her platform to display and bring awareness to black culture and girlhood.

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