SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: I think the word got out that Beyonce would be here. Something happened with her team. She's coming later. Just wait. I promise you. Actually, do not hold me to that. But I wanted to first say that after the panel discussion, there is going to be free food and drink available at the Bear's Den of the Ivy Cafe for those who want to chat more about Lemonade and also for those who are curious about the majors and minors in American studies, Africana, and feminist gender and sexuality studies. So let's continue this conversation after the panel has a chance to go.
So I'm going to sit down for a second. The aesthetics and style of race, gender, and politics-- Beyonce's Lemonade. This presentation is co-sponsored with Africana Studies Research Center, the Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies program, the American Studies program, Cornell cinemas, and the Department of Performing and Media Arts.
My name is Samantha Sheppard. I am an assistant professor of cinema and media studies here in the Department of Performing and Media Arts. I work on black cultural production and production cultures. I'm here with three very distinguished guests, who I will introduce in a second.
I just want to give you a little bit of context, and I want to keep it moving, because we don't actually have that much time. Lemonade premiered on HBO on April 23 of this year-- the visual album that launched what seemed like 1,000 think pieces, a syllabus, and a boycott that no one participated in, as well as a search for who was that Becky with the good hair. This is Beyonce's sixth solo project, and it chronicles an array of black women's experiences. It is both intimate and social. It is a call to arms and a celebration. It is a mix of both authentic as well as fantasy. The visual imagery and auditory metaphors work in diegetic tension with each other throughout the film. As Melissa Harry Parris noted, Lemonade disrupts our inner ear, throws us off balance as we are confronted with the breadth of all we have missed, ignored, and submerged by pushing black womanhood, even our own, to the margins.
And so what we have here is a 60-minute, 11-chapter account that follows intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, and redemption that weaves together poetry and prose, particularly by the London-based Somali poet Warsan Shire, as well as the cinematic and stylistic renderings of various filmmakers, which we'll talk about, in order to create a sumptuous mise en scene , a virtual world, and a retelling of black women's narrative experiences onscreen.
And so with that said, our panelists have been asked to think about various aspects of the album's visual and musical influences, to consider the documentary impulses of the visual album, the aesthetic choices. In order to create a black feminist world on screen, what cinematography, costumes, and casting has to be used. They've Been confronted with the idea that the album plays with issues of representation, autobiography, authenticity, and fantasy. . They considered the style, the politics, the looks that go throughout the album; as well as, they wonder about black sexuality, as well as consider alongside those thoughts issues of genre-- musically, sonically, as well as visually-- that the album traffics in.
And so with that being said, I want to first open our panel up to opening remarks. First, here, we have Oneka LaBennett, who is the associate professor of Africana Studies. She's also a member of the field in the Department of Anthropology. She's a core member of the Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies program and is affiliated with Cornell's Latino Studies and American Studies programs. She is the author of She's Mad Real-- Popular Culture In West Indian Girls in Brooklyn, and editor of Racial Formation in the 21st century.. Thank you.
ONEKA LABENNETT: I want to start with two quick shout outs to my students in Black Girlhood Ethnographies and Women in Hip Hop, who are really terrific and have afforded me this space to elaborate on the themes that I can only touch on and gloss very quickly here. So I'm going to frame Lemonade in three ways very quickly. My first point has to do with the talking points around Lemonade as an autobiographical text, or the the degree to which it's autobiographic. I want to suggest that the focus on it as autobiographic obscures the ways in which it's actually auto-ethnographic..
So of course, the album draws on Julie Dash's seminal film Daughters of the Dust. And in doing so, I think Lemonade is auto-ethnographic. It's auto-ethnographic in the tradition of Daughters and in the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston. We see Beyonce gleaning from her own experience and from the cultural milieu of the South. So like Beyonce and Dash, Hurston had roots in the South and was preoccupied with Southern culture and with linking elements of her own personal experience with black girlhood and black womanhood-- Southern black girlhood and black womanhood particularly. So this is an ethnographically rich text, from the shots of everyday women to the hot sauce in her bag to the intergenerational narration of mother-daughter relationships and to the socialization of black girls.
My second point has to do with black feminism and global black feminism. So I want to frame Lemonade as part of a transnational conversation, what I see as transnational sonic reverberations of African diasporic feminist conversations that have some roots in the South but that channel throughout the globe. And this emphasis on global black feminism, of course, begins with black feminism. The nods to experiential knowledge that we see throughout the visual album, the notion of the personal being political, the placement of LGBT voices and cultural aspects throughout the word are of course tenets of black feminism. But in addition to this, throughout the work we see a dialogue, a collaboration with the broader African diaspora, most notably, as Professor Shepperd mentioned, in Warsan Shire's poetry that Beyonce's narrating throughout the work,
We know that Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents but grew up in London, moved to London when she was just a year old. Also featured in the work is the work of Laolu Senbajo, a Brooklyn-based Nigerian artist, who did the Yoruba-inspired body paint that we saw in Lemonade. We know that The Weeknd is featured on the song "6 Inch." And The Weeknd is Canadian, but of course, the son of Ethiopian parents. And lastly, I see Caribbean influences here, as well, most notably in the song "Hold Up," which, to me, sounds like a reggae song. So bringing all of these voices and aesthetics together frames the work as part of a transnational conversation about black femininity as part of a dialogue between the global South and the global North.
My last point-- we can frame Lemonade as a genre-blurring text that still situates Beyonce firmly within the sexual politics of hip hop. So first off, I want to claim Beyonce wholeheartedly is a hip hop artist. Of course, this is not her first engagement with hip hop. But it's important, I think, to say that she raps on this album. And I read this as meeting Jay-Z on his own turf.
So for about 40 minutes, the audio-visual album is about domesticity, sexual, marital relationships, and shifts in kinship ties. But starting around "Resurrection," marks the shift to a broader political conversation that centers on the mothers of men and boys who lost their lives to police and racist violence. The first part can be read through the early characterizations of black women rappers that Tricia Rose identified. So a prominent component of this is the focus on heterosexual courtship. Of course, Beyonce broadens that here, right? And much of hip hop in this vein takes black men to task. Beyonce does that with critiques of fathers and husbands.
But the second part of the text shifts to an undeniable show of support for black men targeted by racist violence. Here, Beyonce seems to echo Joan Morgan's hip hop feminism. Hip hop feminists have to both recognize sexism perpetrated by black men but at the same time show up in solidarity when black men are maligned and targeted. And Beyonce, of course, says this so poignantly and skillfully by centering the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and others. I'm going to stop there. I think that's my time.
NOLIWE ROOKS: She said a lot.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Thank you, those were many fantastic points. I think that the audience will be able to ruminate on the idea of auto-ethnography as a form of narratolgy. So next we have Professor Noliwe Rooks, who is an associate professor in Africana Studies and Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies. An interdisciplinary scholar, she works on racial implications in beauty, fashion, and adornment, racial inequality in education, race, food, and the politics of the city, and black women's studies. Her work explored how to race and gender both impact and are impacted by popular culture, social history, and political life in the United States. An author of three books, her next book is-- if it's still titled-- Cutting School-- Apartheid Education and the Big Business of Unmaking Public Education. And it's forthcoming from The New Press. Thank you.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Thank you. So thank you all for staying, because I actually had imagined a mad rush to the door as the credits rolled. So it's very pleasant to actually have an audience. Every time I see this, and I've seen it quite a few times-- you know, academics always have a subtitle, like we have a catchy title, and then there's a subtitle. And my subtitle for this is pretty consistently "All the Black Things That Ever Were And May, In Fact, Ever Be."
So Beyonce's pain may feel like yours, but it looks way better. I thought about that as news hit this week that Brad and Angelina were divorcing, at least initially due to infidelity, though apparently he's got a little problem with marijuana. That's what the news says. I couldn't help but wonder if there was any way possible that Angie could hurt in public and look as good as Beyonce doing it.
Beyonce's brand-- though her anger, betrayal, and joy-- is slayage. According to the Urban Dictionary, to slay is to dominate, to achieve perfection, to succeed beyond measure. In this film, she slays oppression, the drowning of a city, systemic racism, all while wondering how her man could treat her so bad when she looks so good.
The music streaming service of which she's a co-owner, Tidal, describes the album as based on the concept of every woman's journey of self through knowledge and healing. They say it examines an ever-sophisticated range of emotions tied to black women's personal and spiritual discontent, satiation, self-worth, agency, and even Godlike proclivities. The songs tell the tale of a marriage that has weathered storms but ends strong.
In the course of the cinematic journey, Beyonce slays at slaying. She is vulnerability fierce black womanhood in motion. She also makes clear that even when broken, her hair is never unloved.
We know that women named Hillary and Huma have publicly lived through and with marital infidelity. And a long-running TV show explored what it meant to be a "good wife" after your high-profile husband cheats. We usually feel sorry for women who find themselves on the other side. Beyonce is not sorry. She throws her deuces up and enters that terrain without our actually ever knowing if the pain and trauma about which she sings is actually real or related to her life when the cameras and microphones are not on.
She sings what would a poet named Ntozake Shange called, in the 1970s, "a black girls' song." The poem says "somebody, anybody, sing a black girl's song. Bring her out to know herself, to know you, but sing her rhythms carin, struggle, hard time. Sing her song of life. She's been dead so long, closed in silence so long. She doesn't know the sound of her own voice, her infinite beauty. She's half-notes scattered without rhythm, no tune. Sing her sighs. Sing the song of her possibilities. Sing a righteous gospel. Let her be born. Let her be born and handled warmly." Beyonce sings a black girl's song in a melody that is heard by all. Thank you.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: I so desperately tried to come up with a pun to keep your beautiful invocations of--
DEHANZA ROGERS: Slayage?
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: --of Beyonce's work.
DEHANZA ROGERS: Slayage?
NOLIWE ROOKS: Slayage.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Slayage is good enough. I think there's a really great synergy already happening across in trying to think about some of the politics of both the idea of a person and a persona. . And so I think we want to consider how we can tease those two concepts out on the panel, as well as-- and particularly-- our audience comments and questions.
Up next, we have Professor Dehanza Rogers, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, who teaches film production. Professor Rogers received her BA in anthropology from Cal State University and holds an MFA in both cinematography and film production from the prestigious School of Theater, Film, and Television at UCLA. Her work is interested in the intersections of film and culture, social justice filmmaking, critical race theory, interactive storytelling, independent filmmaking, blackness in films, and film production culture.
She's currently working on a transmedia documentary called Witnessing that examines the images of black suffering and systemic racism within the justice system since the turn of the 19th century to the present. She's also working on a video installation and performance piece called the Praise Ball that explores the intersection of the LGBT ball culture and the black church. She's also known as an award-winning director for her work The Youth, as well as Sweet, Sweet, Country. Thank you, Professor Rogers.
DEHANZA ROGERS: Just say yes. Yes, I do. Thank you, Professor Shepperd. As a filmmaker, it's hard for me not to have visual aids, but I'm going to just jump into two filmmakers that I think are really important to talk about. There are some high-level filmmakers here. Kahlil Joseph is credited as one of the other directors, along with Beyonce. But there is a black female cinematographer named Allendra Freeman, who is from New Orleans, who's really young. They found her online because she did a little short documentary. And she shot a lot of what you saw in "Formation."
And I thought that was really interesting, because she's the only black woman cinematographer in the entire piece of Lemonade. And I think that speaks to a lot of what I like about Lemonade, but also some issues that I have with it, in terms of production. What we see in front of the screen is very important. We see a lot of beautiful black women. We see women who are starting their journey into careers.
The casting of this show is really important, because we have Ava Clark, who is an 8-year-old model with albinism, and then we have a 93-year-old woman named Leah Chase, who was the godmother of Creole food in America, as well as the mothers of the movement. So we go from these really young children who are going to become something in the future-- the promise of the future-- and then we're dealing with the present and systemic racism and the justice system. And then we look to the past. And all these locations are slave plantations, places of huge suffering. And I think it's really important that where shot this is just as important as what she's shooting.
The fact that there is only one black female cinematographer is problematic for me. But I think it's also a question of where do we fit in in the story of creating the work that we talk about. On top of that, there is a young filmmaker from New York City-- Khalik Allah. He shot all the 8 millimeter footage that you see interspersed between-- when Malcolm X's quote comes up, and you see these women at the gas station, that's him. He went out and interviewed and filmed all these women in 8 millimeter.
And I think to have that moment of agency for these women that we don't get to see-- beauty in our media is framed in white womanhood. What we saw there was not that. What we saw was this loving, beautiful way of lighting women of color, of framing them in a way that we don't get to see. Every time I see it, I get emotional. Every time I see the mothers of the movement, I get emotional.
And then I get really excited about what my possibilities are as a black woman in this country. And I look beyond the problems, and I think, oh, I'm one of those people who is creating this media. And it's going to be just as interesting as what I'm seeing in front of me.
My last point is Arthur Jafa, who was the cinematographer for Daughters Of The Dust, he is a tour de force. Daughters of the Dust is the archetype for so many images when it comes to black women. And you see a lot of it in Lemonade. He talks about handling black skin tone properly, how our skin is marred by degradation due to white supremacist structures, and how it's not just purely about the aesthetic. It's about the political. The fact that you create the work is the politics of the work. The fact that it exists is the political. And I think that's a really important point as well.
As a filmmaker, as a cinematographer, I've seen people of color be lit with a broad light source with no extra work put into it, no sculpting of light, no mood. When you see the mothers of the movement, they have this beautiful wrapping of light around them. You see Leah Chase. She has this flicker of the fire hitting her face. And there's this warm sense of family and home when you see how they're lit. And that's a really important thing. And that's something we don't get to see of ourselves a lot.
So I think, for me, that's what I always take away from Lemonade, that the images I see, the skin tone, the range of it-- "Freedom" was shot at a plantation that is now the go-to destination for weddings, as well as where you would go if you wanted to do a film about slavery. 12 Years a Slave was shot there. It is a commodity in tourism now. It is a place of unmentionable suffering, but you see these carefree black women and girls celebrating themselves and celebrating each other. And I think that's a really important part of the story.
That's all I have to say about this.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: I'm just going to open it. Before we open up to audience questions, because I think it's really important that we privilege questions and comments that you all might have, I want to just ask a few very pointed questions to our panelists, not even questions, but more provocations, as we consider not just the social and political impact of this work, but also the aesthetic impact of this work and the idea, especially in a time of understanding what are the politics; what is the radicalness of quote unquote "black real magic," or seeing expressions of black girl joy.
And I'm going to actually leave it open. So whoever wants to step into a question can. . First, the film itself has a the strong documentary impulse, so the idea of being real or having a direct relationship to the idea of black women-- real black women-- in the world. So with that being said, what do you feel are the radical politics around black womanhood that this work is really trying to get at? Is it revolutionary? That's a common question. And is it problematic to ask it to be revolutionary?
ONEKA LABENNETT: I'm not going to be too revolutionary. But one of the first things that comes to mind about the radical politics of black womanhood is what I've heard people say, not only about the emotions that Lemonade kind of evokes, but also how it feels to see a black woman expressing anger unabashedly. The demonstration of anger, especially in "Hold Up" with the big smile on her face, for me is sort of laughing at the ways in which black women's anger is something that's not allowed to be expressed. She's having such a good time with it. There's a kind of a girlish abandonment to the anger in that first song. And I think that that's part of the radical politics of Lemonade. That's part of what resonates with us as black women that we don't get to see very often.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So I think the one thing that comes to mind about sort of black women and representations of black women that I notice is how rare it is, generally, to have black women stare back at you dead in the face, an unblinking stare, not at a partner, not at someone else, not just be framed, but Lemonade opens with Beyonce not even speaking but looking. And it closes with her sinking and looking. And throughout, not just her, but as you said, the other women, the women who are not stars, who are not known to us, the mothers of the movement are staring whoever is willing to look dead back in the face.
It's hard for me without going through a whole bunch of different films or whatever to impress upon you how rare it is for black women to look back. We talk back. But we don't look back. And so I think that this film is a sort of intervention in that way that I appreciate.
DEHANZA ROGERS: I think one of my favorite scenes in the entire film are their young ladies and the hair shot, because there's something really beautiful about they aren't the famous girls that are constructed. There's a constructed image that is made at the slave plantation. They're all wearing something that was picked for them. Their hair is made a certain way. But when you go into the hair shop, these women are who they are. And they're beautiful the way they are.
And they are looking at the camera. And I think that's a wonderful point, that we don't often get a chance to look at people and then force them to look back at us. We're told to do something, or we say we're going to do something, or we tell someone something and walk away. But to stand there and force this visual conversation with no words, I think that's really profound.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Thank you all. I mean, that actually got at one of my larger points when you think about the style and politics of Beyonce's looks. It both accounts for the aesthetic beauty, the slayage, at the same time the politics of looking, the ability to be looked at, as well the ability to stare back, and what that does-- the idea of a black woman's gaze, which I think gets back to Professor Rogers' point of thinking about what does it mean cinematically and also, since it premiered on HBO, televisually for black women to be telling a certain particular kind of story?
And that really goes back, when we think about the history of filmmaking, to the early pioneers of black women's voices-- Julie Dash, the Kathleen Collins, the Neema Barnettes, the Alli [INAUDIBLE] Davises who are trying to tell black women's stories. And it's very interesting because this is a mixed of hitting up against issues of conflict and capital, issues of consumption-- we get to consume Beyonce, and at the same time, we do not know Beyonce. A false sense of intimacy allows for us to get a deeper politic.
And I think these are sort of issues that swirl around this text, that are in the cubes, that make the lemonade something that is great that you want to drink, but also can taste off. And I think that off-puttingness is quite powerful. And that's what threw everybody off and sparked an "SNL" sketch, that when people found out Beyonce was black, it caught people by surprise a little bit.
But what I want to do, because I want to be mindful of time is I want to make sure that we have time to take some questions. And I'll also make sure our panelists have a chance to really answer any questions or comments or get a chance to engage back with what you all have seen or what has moved you in this work. I know some of you-- I saw you grooving. I saw you. It was throw the deuces up. I saw it. It happened. And the politics of moving, the politics of being moved by work are very important here.
What I'm going to ask is, first, that we have students talk. So if you are a student, get your Beyonce on. Be brave. If you want to come up, there is a mic so we can hear you as well as the recording can hear you. Yes, come on up. And say your name, please, as well. Oh, and I'm making you go all the way over there. But Beyonce would too. Don't worry.
SPEAKER 1: It's OK. You can call me Ketonce if you want. I actually work here. I'm not a student. But I'm young enough, so hopefully I still pass as a student.
But anyway, if anyone knows me, I am obsessed with Beyonce. I love her. I've seen her three times. I'm going to see her again in a week from today. I'm just saying, if any of you guys come to Appel-- you've probably seen me in Appel-- please talk to me about Beyonce. I love talking to people about Beyonce. She's in Houston tonight, by the way. But I digress.
So when I first watched Lemonade, coming from a gender perspective, or a feminist perspective, if you will, when I first watched it, I was really put off by it. I just felt off, because in my opinion her whole career has been about asserting yourself amongst people that have done you wrong, specifically men-- I can give you lyrics, but you guys probably know the lyrics-- including in her last album. On her bonus track, she released a song called "Ring Off" that basically applauded her mother for leaving her father for similar reasons that we see in Lemonade-- for infidelity and treating her wrong, et cetera.
So for me it was a struggle to watch Beyonce just be like-- assuming that this was part of her life, or if it isn't part of her life-- it's OK to just take him back, take Jay-Z back, assuming this is real.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Well, let's get at that. Do you want to make a comment? Do want to put forth a question about the idea of the real?
SPEAKER 1: Yeah, I wanted to ask more about how you felt studying feminism and gender, what your opinion was on that? I mean have since come to-- obviously, I appreciate Lemonade for what it us, but really struggled accepting that. And I felt like if she had come out with a song at the end of this movie being like, hey, it's OK to be alone. It's OK to respect yourself. I feel like women in particular-- kind of like the song "Flawless"-- we're kind of grown up to be like, if you don't get married, that's bad, or we need a man, so to speak.
DEHANZA ROGERS: I think the first thing is artists, especially artists of color, are always-- when we create something, the assumption is that it's the truth that we are talking, that it's autobiographical. While I think white artists have the freedom to create fantasy and to create fiction, and people accept it as fiction. As a woman of color, the assumption us she must be talking autobiographically. Now, she does not have the agency or the ability to create a fiction for herself for her narrative.
I don't know if he cheated on her. I don't really care. I don't care. I think I'm a Beyonce stan now, because I went to a concert, and she was amazing. I was like, oh my god. I had no idea, right? But I don't care about her personal life. I care more about her politics. I would listen to her music before. I listen to her music a lot more now because there's politics attached to them.
So I think disconnecting the idea that this is autobiographical versus important and the second is, yeah, there is that narrative of taking him back. But we see that a lot. We see that with a lot of politicians and their wives. Weiner, yes?
NOLIWE ROOKS: That's what I said-- Weiner.
DEHANZA ROGERS: We literally saw her stand next to him several times as he did ridiculous things. And now she's finally walked away. I don't know if she needs to say she should have walked away times before. I don't know. But we need to accept our own narratives and then not put that stipulation on especially artists of color, to say, you are creating autobiographical work. This may not be true.
She may be talking about her father. I don't know. Her husband may not have cheated. We don't know.
So I think find other media that asserts the ideas that you want, and you'll be happy with it. But don't feel that Beyonce is going to answer the question for you.
NOLIWE ROOKS: OK, hold on. We got another [INAUDIBLE].
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: All right, let's get another question. Yes, yes. Just come on up. If you start a line right here, we can start rolling through them rapid fire. Keep your question as succinct as possible.
SPEAKER 2: Hello, I had a question about, particularly, the "Formation" video. And I read an article back in May when it came out about the colorism that can be-- a perception of colorism that can be viewed in "Formation." I was wondering the panel's thought of, particularly, the one scene when all the dark-skinned women with afros were in line with Beyonce, who's lighter skinned with a long blonde weave-- blonde hair-- on, are even when her daughter is in the house with two darker-skinned black girls, and she's just the light-skinned one in the middle.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: OK, so we're going to take a few questions so that we know things we to address. We're going to address the issues of colorism in "Formation," as well as--
SPEAKER 3: I think that I'm really interested in-- you had mentioned intergenerational. You had mentioned healing and spirituality. And for me, what this represented is a situation of ceremony and a connection with indigenous identity, which really is New Orleans, that convergence between the two. I guess I was really interested in how this works as a ceremony for healing and ways of breaking intergenerational trauma within communities of color.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Wonderful. OK, we've got narratives of trauma, the politics of place in New Orleans, and colorism in "Formation."
SPEAKER 4: And toxic black masculinity. Often we talk about potential problems of the future. We hear climate change. We hear the rise of radical Islam. What I don't hear discussions about in this kind of forum is the fact that by the time these freshmen are maybe 70 years old, the world's population is going to be significantly majority black and significantly majority Islam. So it seems to me in this film she was projecting-- we talked about Afro-futurism. What's the future of the globe look like if we cannot address toxic black masculinity that comes from all of these spaces, whether domestic or in the diaspora, as she alludes to in this film.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Yes, we're going to pause.
NOLIWE ROOKS: And then we'll come back.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: We're going to the first three, and then we're going to do the final three.
ONEKA LABENNETT: So I'll speak to colorism very briefly. But I want to give space to the other panelists to speak to that and the other questions. You know, this is one of the talking points around Lemonade and specifically around "Formation." I've lost the person you had that question.
I have sort of mixed sentiments about this. And it's hard for me to separate the "Formation" video from the others on the visual album, because if you look at it in its entirety, we see the model with vitiligo. We do you see women of various skin tones throughout, especially of course, the mothers of the movement, of course, the kind of docu-style images of women on the street. So I feel like separating "Formation" on its own and arguing that in that particular text there's colorism at play is perhaps a little bit unfair.
But at the same time, I remember when Destiny's Child was still a group. I often wondered, do the other girls not get to sing because they're darker, or do we not get to hear solo from them? I mean, of course there's a way in which Beyonce becomes the focal point. And I think that we would be mistaken to not allow for how colorism plays into her being the star. Of course, she's remarkably talented and all those other things, as well. So I don't want to deny the existence of colorism, but I want to stress looking at it in its entirety.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So I will say that I grew up part of my life in the South. As a dark-skinned black woman, I am colorstruck like nobody's business. I see color dramas everywhere because of my own trauma. I'm claiming that. Like, I'm saying the reason I see that is because where I grew up and in my context.
And so when these conversations started on my Facebook, because all the news that I actually get that I care about starts on my Facebook, this was a knock down drag out. And why is she saying that Creoles are not black? Why is she making Creole a category that is not actually of African descent? And what is it? Race So I was prepared to sneer at the film when I actually saw it, because it took me a minute to actually see it. I was consuming news about it.
And I actually think it's an incredibly unfair critique, because what I said at the beginning, that it is all the black things there ever were and ever may be, I honestly do you see all kinds of black women and black children, from those made up fairly well from those that have the weaves-- What's her name? Kim Kimble? Miss Weave Queen, who has hooked up everybody's hair in this thing-- to folks who were just on the street with their curls set and pressed to little black boys who are dancing in front-- [INAUDIBLE] I don't actually see the colorism operating in the ways that thought that it would in the film.
It's much more, I think, the question about toxic masculinity-- who men are. I think that there is some space there to have a conversation. Like, in a woman-identified woman-centered female that is about empowering and offering a different kind of narrative for black pain, black motherhood, the role, even though it is not primary, that black men play-- I do think that there is something to talk about there. Although I'm not sure I would say that the masculinity is toxic or even complicated in this instance. But I don't think that the colorism is all that fair, which is surprising to me, because I see it [INAUDIBLE]
DEHANZA ROGERS: I agree with that. I am also a black woman from the South, so same trauma.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Yeah.
DEHANZA ROGERS: Yeah.
NOLIWE ROOKS: But you don't think it's that deep?
DEHANZA ROGERS: No, no, no. I saw it, and I thought, oh, there's all these shades. I'm happy.
NOLIWE ROOKS: We're good with that.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: We addressed colorism. We hit toxic masculinity.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Oh, the healing-- Muslims and the--
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Also the idea of healing. So we may circle back around to those points. But we want to open ourselves--
NOLIWE ROOKS: I think she got a healing for you.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Heal 'em. Heal 'em.
DEHANZA ROGERS: Well, I think the inter-generational thing is the healing. I grew up with grandparents. There is something there when you go beyond that first generation and you spend a lot of time with the older folk that really can be healing just in their touch on you. The vibration of their life connecting to yours-- that's what the healing power is. And I think you see a lot of that. She's dealing with her mother and verified issues of infidelity. And then she's also saying, wait, am I talking about my father or your father or your husband?
So there is that issue of connecting with womanhood. As you get to a certain age, you're no longer just the child or the grandchild. You are another woman in the room having a conversation about those things. And I think that's where the healing comes in.
NOLIWE ROOKS: And I will say very, very quickly-- this is really quick. As often as possible, I like to bring black women theorists and scholars into the room and into the conversation. So there's book by Kesho Scott and some other people called The Habit of Survival. that literally talks about how we pass down survival strategies from mother to child, not necessarily for surviving racism and surviving oppression, but also surviving relationships in our own homes. And not all of the habits that we learn of survival are necessarily powerful, uplifting, about reformation, or resurrection. But some of them are. But I do actually see some of that thinking about survival as a kind of habit that is taught and learned in black homes that are not always fabulous.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: I want to quickly point out also the idea of Afro-futurism in this text is actually quite interesting. I think we want to sort of resonate on the idea of the sankofa elements in this, this need to return to the past in order to understand the future. And futurity itself becomes a reclamation of the past, a celebration of black womanhood in the past. One thing about Daughters of the Dust as well as other texts, like Kasi Lemmons' Eve's Bayou, was a lot of white critics had problems with these films because they didn't think that black women in the past had beautiful dresses. And so they esthetically did not even understand how black people looked in the past. And so we can think about the ways in reclaiming the past is a way to look towards a black futurity that was not wanted but that was still realized.
Three questions-- we're going to power through them, power through our answers-- succinct as possible.
SPEAKER 5: Absolutely. So this is a follow up on the Dehanza's comment about lighting and cinematography. And I think even though I liked that there were sort of lots of shades, lots of different body types, I still felt as though there was a hierarchy between the women that we saw in 8 millimeter film, who were just sort of regularly dressed, and the famous women, the thin women, the important women, who were very styled very well-- makeup, hair, lighting. I just wanted some commentary on that.
DEHANZA ROGERS: OK.
SPEAKER 6: Hi. My question was just about the dress that Beyonce wears during "Daddy Lessons," which is a very classically Antebellum dress, but with a West African print. . I feel like in America, if you're black, you're black. But within the black community, there are differences between African-Americans and Africans in America. And I just wanted to get your take on the function of that dress, and if you think Beyonce's trying to open up a dialogue between two to unify the black community.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Wonderful-- cinematography, diasporic blackness, got it.
DEHANZA ROGERS: That was a great question.
NOLIWE ROOKS: She killed it.
SPEAKER 7: So the film's kind of front-loaded with a lot of imagery of property damage, like cars being smashed, buildings being burnt down, and that struck me as very interesting if we're looking at this as being about, in part, outrage about the current state of race relations in America. Like, when you look at something like Tarantino's recent revenge movies, the plantation owner has to get shot, and that kind of thing. But this is very focused on harming stuff, as opposed to harming people. And I'm wondering in any way you can read that symbolically.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Violence directed towards place.
ONEKA LABENNETT: I want to go to you first on the cinematic question.
DEHANZA ROGERS: So yes, very true. Where is she? Oh yeah, sorry. I just wanted to make sure I was looking at you. So yeah, I agree with you. There is this constructed sense in the women who are deemed important or beautiful, and that sense that we want to put out into the media are constructed, right? And then you have these women on the street that get some type of visual agency at that moment. Some of that has to do with production. Some of that has to do with they found this filmmaker and had him go out and interview these women and film these women. Part of me says, at least it happened, opposed to not happening, right?
It's difficult. I think it's problematic. But it's also beautiful at the same time, because it gives us the opportunity to see women that we don't get to see on television and in media, unless we have the mother who's the crackhead or the prostitute. . Then you want to say, these are black women. Were not a monolith. We're everything. So you have these beautiful women who were constructed, and you have these women who have a perm that setting that's there at the gas station getting gas.
So I love that about it. And I think it's a valid thing. I do find some of it problematic.
ONEKA LABENNETT: I want to speak to the question about the dress with the West African print. I'm so glad you asked that question, because it affords me a chance to say a little bit more about this transnational conversation about African diasporic femininity. One of the reasons that I mentioned that Warsan Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents but then raised in London is to note the ways in which just that one poet-- this very significant poet to the film-- has crossed all of these geographic boundaries, has lived in all of these different places, or comes from all of these places, can claim these different national cultural identities.
And I think the dress is doing that kind of cultural work. I think the dress is doing the work of rendering these people and these identities that cross boundaries, that cross borders, that can't be fixed in one place. As somebody from the Caribbean, I'm a little bit uncomfortable in the ways in which "Hold Up" is a reggae song. The Rihanna fan in me is, like, oh, you're not allowed to do that, right? But she is allowed to do that. I think Beyonce is telling us that she's in conversation and in collaboration with all of these sites. And so the dress does that work. Some of the songs do that work. The Yoruba body paint does that work. There are many instances that do the cultural work that you're pointing to. Our other question was about [INAUDIBLE].
I'll say something. Did you want to say something about that? I mean, I'll just very quickly say just one thought related to that question. For me, I did think about the fact that it's cars being smashed primarily and then sites of consumption-- store windows. I think, of course, she's alluding to-- and some of you brought this up earlier-- the ways in which we see looting, the ways in which we see peaceful protest versus looting. But I also think it's significant that these are sites of capitalism and then sites of masculinity. For me, the car and then the monster truck at the end is Beyonce being the boss and Beyonce sort of taking on what we normally think of as a masculine terrain. And then she's also holding a baseball bat. So there are all kinds of phallus, sports, masculine images that she's appropriating.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So if there's any kind of way, which I just thought about as you were talking about it, that we could talk about Beyonce is sort of slaying toxic masculinity, because in that one thing when she's with Serena with the deuces, she says something about, kiss my sweaty balls or something. Is it that one? No, no, there's one of them when she literally does say something like, doesn't she? Is it inappropriate to say that?
ONEKA LABENNETT: No.
DEHANZA ROGERS: She didn't say sweaty.
NOLIWE ROOKS: She didn't say sweaty! She just said balls. But it's almost back to her "If I Were a Boy" kind of thing. So she's the one with the baseball bat smashing up stuff. She's the one in the truck wreaking havoc. She's the one saying, I'm not sorry. . And kiss-- well, yeah.
So there's a way that some of the tropes of toxic masculinity she actually ends up appropriating. But the fact that it's a female body, what do you even do with that? What is the language or the theories or the thinking that we have to help us seriously make sense of it.
In the same way, I was thinking about on my Facebook page there was a whole thing about can black Americans culturally appropriate other ethnic black people around the world, right? So if you are African-American and wearing fabrics associated with West Africa, why is that not cultural appropriation in the same ways that we charge Marc Jacobs when he wants to send people down the runway with dreadlocks with cultural appropriation. So people were trying to figure out where are those lines, which most people are just like, yeah, but black people can't appropriate the cultures of other black people. And other folks were kind of like, why is that? And I don't think that actually got resolved. But in a way, Beyonce makes it irrelevant, right, because she slays at cultural appropriation. I'm telling you, everything you throw at her, she's like, I'm totally on top of it.
DEHANZA ROGERS: So the question-- oh.
NOLIWE ROOKS: They're waving at us.
DEHANZA ROGERS: They're waving.
NOLIWE ROOKS: We're done.
DEHANZA ROGERS: We're done.
SAMANTHA SHEPPARD: Unfortunately, following here, who are you going to call after this? It's the Ghostbusters screening. So first, I just want to thank all three panelists for being here. Cut it off.
No, it's a text that has many forms of legibility. And the conversations that we are having now can still be had as we make our way to the reception after that has free and drink for those of you all who have various precarious amounts on your food card thing that you used to get food. So please join us. We can keep this conversation going. It's a sumptuous text that we've only began to take a bite of. Thank you all for coming. Thank you all for being here tonight.
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Cornell Cinema hosted a screening and faculty panel discussion of Beyoncé's one-hour visual album, "Lemonade," Sept. 22, 2016, co-sponsored by Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies, the Africana Studies and Research Center and the American Studies Program. Panelists: Samantha Sheppard (moderator), Oneka LaBennett, Noliwe Rooks, and Dehanza Rogers.