LEMONADE has provoked a fuckton of discussion points, many of which are painfully, heartwrenchingly important. So important that they re-awaken a familiar horror of disbelief in me: how are we still here? As a society, as men and women, as human beings? I’m not very good at talking about race, politics, or history. Maybe it’s because I tend to focus more on the differences between atoms or between planets than the differences between people or between living things. Thus, I graciously leave those topics to far more capable minds.
Instead, I’d like to pick out a single theme that is universally relatable: you, and you alone, are the auteur of your story. Nobody else should have the power to tell others who you are; it’s a sacred right.
Though she is absurdly publicized and thirsted after, Beyoncé has been so carefully guarded. I can’t remember the last time she gave an interview, or addressed the public about matters personal or professional. There was no word from B during Thigh Gate, or when we watched her stand quietly by as her sister attacked Jay-Z in an elevator. All we can really latch onto when it comes to Beyoncé is a) her carefully defined peaks of creative work — music, videos, fashion, editorial — and b) what others have to say about her.
But the latter “source” ultimately fades away, because her creative work reigns supreme. You may think you understand the affliction of the scorned woman; you may judge the man who has fucked around. You might empathize with the devastation of being betrayed by the person you love most in the world. But just when you start to feel sorry for her, she counters with both middle fingers high: “Who the FUCK do you think I is?” You can’t recreate her / You’ll never recreate her.
None of us can ever know her real journey, if she’s truly found forgiveness or redemption, or if she even needed to in the first place. It doesn’t matter if you were right there with her, riding shotgun in her catharsis coaster, or if you dismissed the film as a meticulously constructed, attention-seeking narrative. Perhaps you even tick both those boxes simultaneously.
And for those who think it’s all just an elaborate ploy for Carter World Domination…what does it matter? No matter how contrived you find LEMONADE to be, it still represents someone’s truth — like Warsan Shire’s, for instance. Or that of any other person, black or woman or otherwise, who is moved by the storytelling. I’m open to art of many motivations, and that includes entertainment and the money that comes from doing it well. There should be few rules for how to experience creative expression, if any; sometimes I just want to enjoy art on its own terms, at its face value, and contextualize it for myself before I let others do it for me.
I myself was deeply moved by the storytelling of LEMONADE, and it’s forced me to reflect upon my own narrative. Growing up, I was told by everyone in my life system that I was all sorts of things: preppy (LOL), demure, conservative, smart, classy, traditional, cute, “natural looking,” etc. I spent a long time allowing others to shape me before I had a chance to shape myself, and that way of existing — surviving but not thriving — can destroy you. It can make you hate the world and everyone in it — even (and often, especially) the people who love you. It’s a black hole’s existence, the tiniest shred of you crushed down at the center by everyone else’s shitmatter.
It’s not easy to defy gravity, but Beyoncé reminds us that we are the masterminds of our own stories. Though we may sometimes feel cookie-cut by the assumptions and expectations of others — about our bodies, minds, ethnicities, generations, or genders — we can refuse to be limited by anyone else’s idea of us. We can choose to be the definers, the creators, and the storytellers…and this is just one of the many ways we slay.
- Featuring the Vampire Slayer Bodysuit by Black Milk Clothing.