Just finished reading bell hooks analysis of Bey’s Lemonade and I am struggling to understand what the attack on her is all about. Even though I have been the subject of a public attack by bell hooks in my mid-20s, I always appreciate her theorising.
In relation to Lemonade, hooks has provided a necessary critique that builds on and expands the scope of the film’s narrative arc beyond just the naming of: black sisterhood of pain and trauma, our power of self-objectification and naming, our continued investment and participation in both the white scopic regime and our excavating of a repressed and liberating Africanity.
hooks’ critique is an invitation to enjoy Lemonade without completely losing ourselves in the saccharine and slick celebration of freedom and black female empowerment. It is very easy to be seduced by the self-styling, the gorgeous presentation of the black female body in pain and in exquisite defiance and camaraderie; and we must be allowed that therapeutic moment of total absorption and sheer pleasure in watching black/female ownership of the means of production, naming of pain and its transcendence.
Lemonade is mellifluous, a sensuous and mesmerizing visual feast. We should enjoy it, without apology. Yet, so that we don’t completely fall, we need to be vigilant about the global status of women who do not have the economic freedom that Bey has or the ability to always participate in the very sensuous commodified fetishsation of the black female body that assures Bey’s own economic freedom and defiance.
Yes, I do think she glamorises violence. But I also believe that there is a space
fortherapeutic violence. Bey’s anger and glamorisation of violence was just not excessive enough, it is too demotic and sugary. The only excess was the sugar in her lemonade which tamed the tartiness of the lemons (lesbians).
It would have been a more empowering and radical gesture had she performed an artistic death on the cheating man. Abeg, where else can we go if not to the imaginative or the thought murder of our minds to exert bone crushing revenge that would not land us in jail?
Instead, with all her performativity violence and righteous anger, she simply returned to the cosy embrace of the Cheat, an act no different from the demotic.
For me, she therefore lost an opportunity to be truly radical or transformative. At the end of the day, both patriarchy and the heterosexual script remained intact and unworked. Had Bey killed the Cheat, I am sure hooks would have been on her side because she would have read it as defiance against patriarchy and the ‘straight mind’.
I like artistic or literary deaths as an unwillingness to accept or continue with norms; it is an opportunity to really jam the convention and ensure that all subjugating powers always sleep with one eye wide open. With Lemonade, the power structure is unprovoked and remained unshaken. This, is at the core of bell hooks’ critique, I believe. This is one of the reasons why I think a mother killing her own child in Morrison’s ‘Beloved’, is such a stunning and painful moment in literature, but a revolutionary act, that threatened the core of white plantocracy.
Bey should have gone all the way jor. And not doing so made the whole thing ultimately unsatisfying for me.
Personally, I believe Bey’s presentation of her autobiographical moment and bell hooks critique of it should be consumed side by side; they are both a reminder that there is still much work to be done in dismantling patriarchal domination and destructive hetero-normativity which Lemonade rightly names and then reconstituted in the family romance at the end.
We need both Beyonce and bell hook’s brand of feminism to continually interact and intersect, this is the only way each can refine and strengthen their position. I am grateful that they both exist.