photo courtesy of MCT Campus
On April 14, 2018, I sat awake in my bed at 2:00 a.m. watching Beyoncé dominate the Coachella Music Festival stage on the Coachella livestream, desperately wishing I was there to experience the first headline performance by an African-American woman in person. One year and many Beyoncé-related meltdowns later, she surprised the world with a concert film intertwined with a behind-the-scenes look at the groundbreaking performance, aptly titled “Homecoming.”
I woke up on the morning of April 17, 2019 — the day the movie was released on Netflix — ready to dedicate my entire day to watching Beyoncé’s cinematic story unfold. The very first thing I did as I stretched my legs and popped my neck was grab my phone, open the Netflix app and hit play on the two-hour-17-minute movie.
“Welcome to Beyoncé Homecoming 2018.” Just five words uttered by the male narrator, and chills spread in waves over my body.
Those five words set the tone for the performance — an ode to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (or HBCUs) and to the African-American culture as a whole. Beyoncé made sure every portion of the show — whether that be costuming, stage design or visuals — contributed to the story.
Each song was masterfully remixed to feature a full drumline and band, every note allowing the listener to feel like they’re sitting in the student section of a college football game. The catchy and fight-song reminiscent beats that took over her signature “Crazy in Love” and “Formation” basslines make you want to get up and groove.
The choreography featured stepping, a vital HBCU tradition that features the body as an instrument. This style of choreography added a complex cultural reference that tied the musicality of the songs with the dancers’ bodies.
The matrimony of the band and stepping created an immersive experience that beautifully portrayed the history of HBCUs.
Costuming was another huge part of the show. Olivier Rousteing — the creative director of the French fashion house Balmain — personally designed each costume piece to harmonize with each section of the show, whether that be a holographic black coat or an Egyptian-inspired cape.
The performance was broken into sections with interludes. Each interlude started with a quote from either an African-American activist or HBCU student. “To me, we are the most beautiful creatures, black people,” said by legendary jazz singer Nina Simone, is just one quote that adds dimension to the already beautifully complex theme.
During each interlude, Beyoncé spoke about details of the show, her own personal experience while rehearsing and planning it and her overall thoughts and feelings about the message the show portrays.
These two elements — performance and interlude — blended together to create a story that couldn’t have been told better. Beyoncé wanted to deliver representation and inclusion to the African-American community. And that’s just what she did.