Homecoming review: Netflix Coachella documentary reinforces Beyoncé's power and cultural control

Anvisha Manral

Apr 18, 2019 17:04:15 IST

In 2014, Beyoncé and Jay-Z got the Louvre to open its gates on a Tuesday, the day the world's greatest art museum is closed for the public. The couple was joined by their then two-year-old daughter Blue Ivy. During the trip, the musicians posed dangerously close to the Mona Lisa, and publications later argued that it was actually the half-length portrait that had asked the Texas-born singer for a selfie.

In 2016, Beyoncé released Lemonade, a visceral introspection into her own life. She blurred the lines between personal and political by addressing husband Jay-Z's infidelity, while posing on top of a sinking New Orleans police vehicle in another track titled 'Formation'. Her artistic statement on the systemic misconduct towards blacks was deemed anti-police by a group of officers who staged a protest in Houston, a stop on her 2016 Formation tour. Days later, merchandise with "Boycott Beyoncé" plastered all over was sold at her tour and on her official website. It was like her way of saying: "I'm sorry that you have beef with me."

Often hailed as the greatest living entertainer of her generation, the singer enjoys the luxury of being the queen of her Beyhive, one of the biggest 'standoms' in the world, all with a no-interview policy. A nod to be on the cover of a magazine always comes with one condition: Mrs Carter must have total editorial authority.

Homecoming review: Netflix Coachella documentary reinforces Beyoncés power and cultural control

Beyoncé's iconic Coachella 2018 performance forms the core of Netflix's Homecoming. Image via Twitter/ @itsgabrielleu

While some may think she's too drunk on it, control underlines everything Beyoncé does and stands for. Her Netflix documentary Homecoming is another case in point. A minute-by-minute account which lets fans re-live her career-defining Coachella 2018 performance, Homecoming is testimony to her blackness, relevance, power, and at the same time, her capitalist money-making hustles. When Yoncé announces her arrival from the top of the pyramid structure at the beginning of her performance in the Californian desert, a close up shot of a fan staring at her in utter disbelief flashes on the screen. It's almost as if everyone in the arena is aware that history is being made and is thankful to Beyoncé for letting them be a part of her experience.

What Beyoncé brought to the stage in 2018 as the first African-American woman to headline an overwhelmingly white Coachella remains a cultural awakening. Armed with supporting acts from husband Jay-Z, sister Solange and a top secret Destiny's Child reunion, she conjured up the spirit of the HBCU student experience at Beychella. Assembling a black orchestra from historically black colleges and universities in America seemed like something Beyoncé would do. Singing the black anthem in front of a sea of white bodies is conceivable for someone who bailed out anti-police brutality activists in America. But for Homecoming, she lets us into her dream for her people: “Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important to bring power culture to our culture,” she asserts in voice-over.

Beyonce at Coachella 2018. Image via Twitter/@RottenTomatoes

Beyoncé at Coachella 2018. Image via Twitter/@RottenTomatoes

The two-hour-long documentary does not reveal anything the world does not already know about Beyoncé Knowles: mother of three, wife to Jay-Z, and a hard taskmaster. The weeks prior to her Coachella performance show her grappling with the fear of never being the same show-woman again after giving birth to her twins. However, as she puts her faith in her choreographers, designers, dancers and orchestra, they put theirs in her. Homecoming, then, seems like her way of telling us that, once again, she is in total control of the narrative: the documentary has been written, directed, and produced by her.

Just when you think she's dropping her guard, a telling realisation dawns upon you: this is exactly how she wants the world to see her. So does the documentary unravel the mystique of Beyoncé or only add to it? There is a strange sense of detachment you feel from the artist when she is FaceTime-ing her husband or meeting her kids backstage. The behind-the-scenes footage project her as a dedicated mother to her three children — Blue Ivy, Rumi and Sir and a loving wife. But no matter how candid a portrayal of the singer the documentary might be, will we ever really know what Beyoncé is like when she's not with her clique? Perhaps not, because here, she decides the rules.

Everything Beyoncé does can be viewed as a calculated capitalist exercise marketing her black experience to increase her riches. She kept the documentary under wraps and before anyone could get a whiff of what was cooking, she made an announcement, trying to tell the world that only she is capable of pulling a Beyoncé. Netflix is bound to witness an influx of new subscribers with Homecoming on its shelves. So, is the documentary really just an ode to black culture and excellence? The carefully peppered quotes and speeches by black visionaries in the footage would have us believe so. And as for Beyoncé, the answer lies in the final verse of 'Formation': "Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper."

Homecoming is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2019 13:21:51 IST

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