Beyonce’s Visionary Fiction: Formation

Like many of you, yesterday I was sitting in my house minding my own Black History/Futures Month business when Beyonce did this:

This video.

My first reaction:

“Wow. Thanks to musette Tunde Olaniran for letting me know Beybe gave us something new. There is so much going on here and a lot of it gave me feels (tears…Blue Ivy opening and then that baby boy vs the riot squad??).”

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“Overall it reads as Bey slaying (sp) no to govt/popo killing us with no impunity, and I’m absolutely here for it.”

Then I came back to say: “this video keeps on giving. Each viewing there are so many gifts and blessings. Each line is conversational, it is constructed to be used in pieces or as a whole to transform a situation. Spell casting place-based brilliance.”

And this Sunday morning I have watched it several more times, and realized that above and beyond the level of excellence I expect from Beyonce, she is serving visionary fiction here.

But before I even get to the visionary fiction aspects of this work: the references made throughout this video are so satisfying, so uplifting – New Orleans is in the pace, in the lighting, in that black southern mythical witch Marie Laveau finger lickin life and death Sunday church realness. Beyonce rocking her long blond hair preference but meeting haters with braids. Every single outfit, every move, all three perfect seconds of the conqueror Blue Ivy, all of it. Stanned out.

Like, I love that only a chorus separates the middle-fingers-up promise of how she will respond to good sex from the black-bodies-dancing Sunday church spirit catching. Pleasure activism. This is real life.

And then…so visionary fiction, a concept Walidah Imarisha taught me, which we have been popularizing with Octavia’s Brood, centers traditionally marginalized communities, posits change as something that is bottom up and collective, neither utopian nor dystopian. Visionary fiction understands that there is no neutral ground, that art is either advancing or regressing justice.

I think parts of this video (a video which also has non-radical elements, I know, I’m open to that conversation) are as radical a seeding of visionary futures as the lunch counter sit-ins. Stay with me – after the country saw black and white people sitting together at that counter they couldn’t unsee it – it was an option, it was a possibility. It was an aspiration.

In this video, at a point where Beyonce has already taken us from the adorable to the raunchy to the ecstatic, and instructed us to get in formation!!!!, we get to see a riot squad surrender to the body brilliance of a black boy in a hoodie, dancing in the middle of the street.

One day after Trayvon Martin’s birthday. And, as my friend YK Hong points out, one day before Sandra Bland’s birthday.

Then we pan over graffiti which says, in case you are in any way confused: Stop Shooting Us.

Then, a police. car. sinks. into. the. NOLA. waters.

With the Queen Bey as a human sacrifice to keep it down!

I/We cannot unsee these things, they speak so completely to the longing to drown the impulse of white supremacy, of violence against my/our people.

And then, finally, one of the central lyrics is basically a visionary fiction mantra:

I dream it
I work hard
I grind til
I own it

We create from what we can imagine. We are living right now inside the imaginings of people whose mental illness makes them believe they are superior to other human beings. This video is part of the resistance, the new imaginings that we use to pull ourselves towards liberation.

I feel so proud of Beyonce, so moved by director Melina Matsoukas’ vision in action, and just want to say thank you everyone who shaped this incredibly timely work. We needed this, and we need more artists to deliver this kind of flawless politicized work. Art is our public sphere, our culture shaping cauldron. This is a precious black love offering.

Now. Go slay.

14 Responses to “Beyonce’s Visionary Fiction: Formation”


  1. 1 s

    thank you for this, it’s beautiful. Can you say something about the fact that Beyonce is a billionaire? So much comes from our billionaire overlords these days, it’s hard for me to get thrilled about this piece (and it is amazing). But in our excitement over it, we forget she and Jay-z have more wealth than millions and millions and millions of people. How does that inform our reading of her work?

  2. 2 Susan Christian

    Watching this every hour till hell freezes over. Organizing a show in my art gallery as of today called “Visionary Fiction” with a call to artists who can commit to making it political. Lifechange.

  3. 3 Adrienne

    Her capitalism is not surprising to me – she’s the most successful person in her industry. And she’s been growing up and getting politicized in front of our eyes. We don’t know all the answers for how we get free – but I’m pleased that she’s using her platform to do this.

  4. 4 angel Kyodo williams

    i love you. now, can you make your blog’s font bigger for those of us past 40? :-)

  5. 5 Juju

    I absolutely positively love your writing in this review. It took me there and I don’t need to take anyone to red lobster. You hit all the points out of the ballpark.

  6. 6 Adrienne

    Love you too! I think you have to do the settings on your end? I’ll check.

  7. 7 pablo

    b/c nothing says ‘social justice’ like perpetuating sexploitation and objectification of women’s bodies while making cliche dance moves in lingerie and black lace leggings

  8. 8 Jonathan

    adrienne: thanks once again for your compassionate insight and revolutionary grasp of creating a new possible!

  9. 9 Russell Scarola

    For most keyboards/operating systems: press ctrl and + at the same time to make the font bigger on your end (and then ctrl and – to make it smaller).

    Thank you for this. Showing to my class tomorrow as we talk about Between the World and Me. Going to watch Franti’s Start Today as well.

    Russ

  10. 10 Navajomomof3

    Love love love your beautifully written commentary. I seriously was not a BeyoncĂ© fan. I’m a fan now. I love artists that have a cause. Medicine for the people, naatanii means, a tribe called red and frank Walhn are all artists with a passion for using their talents. Now let’s add BeyoncĂ©.

  11. 11 Roxanne

    I saw immediately: Formation. I thought adrienne. Wow.

    Mind flickers, make me smile over the day. Formation, stunning even in Illinois. Tonight, I click on you. Easy to find, squeezed up cozy between Ashley Horan and Leslie Mac. There you are, ha! But I just saw you. What’s up with that? Trick of the universe, that.

    I think you know: I’ve always, always meant it.
    #ComplacencyIsComplicty #EndWhiteSupremacy

  12. 12 Adrienne

    perspective is so important tho…as a black woman, i saw lots of other black women celebrating their bodies in lots of different kinds of outfits, most of which i want. but i also really love leggings, i love sex workers and strippers and the ways they claim power and survival, i love dancers and the language of dance, i love blackness, and so on. i have a justice lens on all of that.

  13. 13 Diane

    Good for Beyonce!! This video reminds me of how I felt after watching the film Beloved!! It stays in your soul! It doesn’t leave you. I support my Black brothers and sisters for standing proud and being the change the world needs!

  14. 14 Robin Moore

    And slay we will. I agree that it (the video and subsequent live performance) was needed. I enjoyed every minute of it and now after viewing #28, I can say that there’s so much here. The multitude and plenteous interpretations speaks to where we are… individuals of the collective.

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