Review: ‘Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé’ is illuminating

by Nicole Aboodi | 5/23/19 2:01am

We have all seen it: a huge sensation, a star burning brightly and boldly. But then, the star crashes down, never to resurface except in commercials for yogurt and the occasional magazine shot that boasts a collection of “Hollywood Has-Beens: Where Are They Now?” Beautiful poetry, films and plays have been written on the idea that there is an upper limit to the number of stars our world can worship and, thus, some must fall. But not Beyoncé. Never Beyoncé.

After a 22-year career, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter still thrives. It always seems like she won’t be able to best herself, that she must’ve reached the height of her career. And yet, she always surprises, always challenges, always adds something that further promotes her brand. 

And “Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé” reminds the world of not just her success but also her permanent influence and everlasting creativity. The film mostly consists of her 2018 Coachella performance, but the director, Beyoncé herself, cuts in more personal, behind-the-scenes footage. She begins her performance with “Crazy in Love,” which was the artist’s first number one single as a solo artist. While her now-husband, Jay-Z, is featured on the song, this song marked Beyoncé’s huge debut to the world as a solo artist, which made it the perfect choice to open up “Beychella.” She continues her performance with songs from her most recent album, “Lemonade,” immediately following up “Crazy in Love” with her song “Freedom,” which has been referred to as an African-American empowerment anthem. Her performance intertwines her older material with her newer songs, all while expressing a message of black and female empowerment.

Beyoncé’s Coachella setlist traces her career trajectory. First, she opens with the song that introduced her as a solo talent. Then, she sings a collection of songs from various points in her career with a slightly stronger emphasis on songs from her album, such as “Lemonade,” which focus on her growth as a strong woman, and more importantly, her identity as a strong, black woman. 

Her entire performance, as well as “Homecoming” itself, is a celebration of black excellence, specifically her black excellence. Solange Knowles, Beyoncé’s sister, comes out on stage to dance with her, celebrating the performer’s roots, as well as a reminder of their long-term, tightknit bond. Similarly, she performs alongside her Destiny’s Child groupmates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. The girl group performs some of their biggest and most memorable hits, like “Say My Name” and “Lose My Breath”— songs that we still remember in a frat basement. Beyoncé also brings out Jay-Z in order to celebrate her relationship with him — but also her journey as an artist, as he’s been by her side for the majority of her career. Each guest performer represents different points in her career and the crowd goes wild for each one. 

However, a larger underlying point must be recognized. While each guest performer was integral to her career and her personal life, Beyoncé doesn’t owe her success to anyone — she has managed to stay on top as an individual throughout all the different stages of her life, regardless of who her biggest supporter at the time was. She was a success when she was part of a girl group, and she was a success as part of a celebrity power couple. But the common denominator is always her. 

The reason why she never burns out when other stars do is her talent. Some celebrities build their brand on their personal lives and their drama. Others have a trendy talent that is specific to a time and doesn’t last. But Beyoncé’s talent is pure and timeless. While all the other performers support her, she doesn’t subsist on their help; she is a force all by herself. And “Homecoming” just goes to show that.

Every detail of the film is perfectly curated: the costumes, the lighting, the choreography. The performance and the film have a really strong college-theme — specifically modeled after historically black colleges and universities — made evident through her discussion on the importance of HBCUs and the education they provide, as well as the film’s display of quotes from HBCU alumni about empowerment and education. Additionally, the choreography is fashioned in ways that are evocative of HBCU halftime shows; the show intersperses many step-performances and marching band routines. Furthermore, Beyoncé’s costumes, as well as all the background dancers,’ have her initials, BK, and a large Delta in the middle. The majority of her ensembles are either pink or yellow; this color choice, in addition to the letters, invoke a sorority’s sisterhood. 

“Beychella” honors HBCUs, but “Homecoming” delves deeper into that choice and Beyoncé’s personal connection to such institutions. Although she didn’t attend one, her father did, and because she dreamed of attending one herself and has fond memories of visiting campuses, Beyoncé said HBCUs have a special place in her heart. Beyoncé’s admiration of HBCUs definitely distinguishes “Beychella,” and in turn, “Homecoming,” from other live performances or concerts and documentaries made about them. Her focus on HBCUs also suits the performance perfectly and is an example of Beyoncé using her platform wisesly, as she was the first African-American woman to ever headline the festival. 

The college theme intertwines well with the idea that “Homecoming” is a representation of Beyoncé’s long-lasting and successful career. In the documentary, Beyoncé herself talks about how entertainment served as her education when she said, “I always dreamed of going to an HBCU. My college was Destiny’s Child. My college was traveling around the world, and life was my teacher.” 

Although Beyoncé didn’t have a traditional college experience, her performance’s college theme further illustrates that she won’t be a star that fades but rather an icon that will continue to surprise and excite her audiences with a surprise album or a directorial debut. Even the title, “Homecoming,” reminds the audience that the stage is where Beyoncé was raised, where she belongs and is where her home ultimately is.

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