Beyoncé’s performance at last year’s Coachella Music Festival was billed, and indeed received, as a cultural moment. The first ever black woman to headline the three day event, there was no doubt that this show would be a spectacle.
Homecoming tracks the show’s evolution from concept to finished project, moving between high-definition footage of the performances themselves and grainy, home-video style shorts of the behind the scenes world that went into producing the final show. This blend of personal videos and stunning, captivating performance is something that Knowles has been experimenting and perfecting over her last two albums – mostly on her self-titled 2013 visual album Beyoncé that dropped suddenly overnight and changed the game for surprise album releases ever since.
The film opens with a Toni Morrison quote, and these title cards containing quotations from African-American scholars and intellectuals continues throughout the film. There has been a more notable political stance to Knowles-Carter’s work since her appearance at the VMAs with ‘feminist’ emblazoned on the screen behind her. And that’s exactly what Homecoming is about.
The American colleges known as HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are a part of American culture that people outside the continent might not be aware of. Formed before the Civil Rights Act 1964 they were designed to serve the African American population segregated from the white universities. Throughout the film the Knowles-Carter’s voiceover explains that she wants to show America and the world about the culture and practises that are long established – such as the drum line, stepping and the brass and band performances that are part of celebrations at HBCUs.
And that is what is most captivating about Homecoming and the Coachella performance. The pyramid construction, stretching way up into the rafters, is packed with singers, dancers and musicians in bright yellow or pink uniforms, each with their own task to do but moving as one highly synchronised unit. This end result is shown in its growth through the ‘backstage footage’ in between the musical performances, showing the hours that went into creative one of the most talked about musical performances. Men and women stretch their limbs, rehearse steps in quick routines as Knowles-Carter, ever present, watches and gives direction. It is undoubtedly a huge collaborative effort, but there is always one woman there, combining all the disparate elements into the final, spell-binding show.
It’s also a deeply personal film, especially for a woman who is extremely private and whose perfectly curated Instagram account rarely contains family photos or captions. Knowles-Carter talks about giving birth to her twins Sir and Rumi, the difficulties of performing post-pregnancy and how becoming a mother has changed her approach to her career.
Homecoming is the celebration of a cultural icon’s career – told in her own words. It’s political and moving, a celebration of black American culture, of defiance, of endurance. It’ also about how it takes a village to create a performance – the power of collaboration and on passing on these values to the next generation.