Homecoming (2019) by Beyoncé Knowles
Review by Courtney Anderson
I remember staying up all night to watch Beyoncé’s Coachella performance.
I definitely had to be at work the next morning, but I didn’t care. I sat there watching the YouTube livestream of Beyoncé’s headlining performance like it was 2 p.m. in the afternoon instead of 2 a.m. in the morning. I was groggy and drowsy as hell later on — periodically nodding off at my desk and then looking around to see if anyone saw me — but her performance had been worth it.
There wasn’t always a time where I would’ve given up sleep to watch Beyoncé. In fact, there was a dark time in my personal history where I would’ve said that I didn’t like Beyoncé at all. Perhaps it was because I was a child who didn’t appreciate all of the talent and hard work she put forth. For whatever reason, I didn’t see the light until 2011, when she released her album, 4.
And I wouldn’t get my official Beyhive Membership ID until she unexpectedly dropped her self-titled visual album in 2013. It just so happens that these projects were the first that Beyoncé created under her own management.
To me, 4 and the self-titled album not only demonstrated Beyoncé’s commitment to her own independence as an artist, but also an commitment to feminism and womanhood in general. The phrase “Girl Power” feels a little bit too cynical to be applied to Beyoncé’s work. It feels better to say that these projects were a woman’s way of expressing her love for other women.
Her 2016 album and film LEMONADE felt like a step further: now, Beyoncé was adding a racial politic to her expression of love. LEMONADE was an ode to Black women (particularly Black Southern women), and that racial specificity would deepen my admiration of her as an artist.
Beyoncé was asserting that her Blackness is inextricable from her womanhood.
I’m mentioning these previous works because Beyoncé’s documentary Homecoming, which chronicles the journey of crafting her 2018 Coachella performance, feels like a culmination of all those previous works. By using the homecoming celebrations of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) as an inspiration, Beyoncé’s Coachella performance reaffirmed her love of Black people and Black culture. Homecoming is very loud and explicit about Beyoncé’s determination to celebrate her history.
Homecoming begins with about 15 minutes of footage from her Coachella performance, seamlessly editing both weekends and rehearsals together. The documentary is broken up into sections, and each section is introduced by a quote from a Black artist or scholar, usually one who graduated from a HBCU.
On a technical level, the sections and quotes are helpful because they give the documentary structure and introduce the key themes of the performance. There’s a section for Black history, a section for Beyoncé’s maternity and views on her womanhood, a section on her need for Black community. It is like a very-carefully guided tour through Beyoncé’s mindset while she created this performance. Beyoncé wrote, produced and directed this documentary, and it shows: it’s highly stylized in its audio and video editing, but it still feels very intimate and grounded.
Beyoncé uses brief snippets to tell us a lot about herself. We see small clips of her vow renewal and her twins, Rumi and Sir, while she narrates that she desperately wanted to go home to be with her children. We watch clips of her post-pregnancy rehearsals while hearing her muse about how rehearsing is a very humbling experience that many people try to avoid. We see clips of her struggling to get back into shape while we listen to her detail a frighteningly restrictive diet that she swears she’ll never put herself on again. The structure of the documentary allows us to see Beyoncé on her terms.
This is her journey that she’s invited us on.
Homecoming definitely feels much more like a look into her personal/emotional journey than it does a chronological account of the creation of Beychella. She could’ve easily just made an extended vlog about the 8-month preparation of the show. She could have explained the casting, costume design, staging or whatever else she wanted to. Part of me wants to have seen more of the logistical aspects of creating the show. But Beyoncé ultimately chose to craft a documentary whose effectiveness lies in how it resonates with its intended audience. This is a documentary that’s meant to make Black people — Black women in particular — feel inspired in one way or another.
The beginning of the documentary features a quote from Nina Simone. It’s pulled from an interview where Nina explains her mission as an artist:
I feel as though this quote was the perfect choice for this documentary. Like Nina, Beyoncé seems preoccupied with making her audience aware of and curious about facets of Black culture. More than that, Beyoncé seems preoccupied with expressing her love and fascination with Black culture and her own Black history.
The biggest celebrity in the world is a Black woman who is willing to push herself way past any limitations — her own and the ones the world tends to thrust upon us — to manifest her vision. And it’s amazing to watch her do it.