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Who gets to lay claim to their identity in America?

Making sense of critiques of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Black is King.

By: Maria Prudente

In the final hours of Friday, June 19th or Juneteenth- the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, Beyoncé released the song, “Black Parade.” The lyrics celebrate Black activists of the past like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights leaders of today, “Need another march, lemme call Tamika,” she sings, referencing American activist Tamika Mallory. She demands reparations, boasts about owning Black art, encourages listeners to raise their Black power fists in the air, claims rubber bullets bounce off her body at protests, and suggests that “being Black, maybe that’s the reason they always mad.” “Black Parade” was a radical expression of Black pride at a time when it was most needed.

A month later, the trailer for Black Is King- a visual film written, directed, and produced by Beyoncé- was released online. It would feature music she had curated for the Disney film The Lion King: The Gift, for which she voiced the character for Nala. Diamond encrusted turbans, crescent-moon print catsuits, duku crowns, crystal crochet ponchos, iridescent floral jackets, chain fishnet gloves, hot pink and rainbow ruffled gowns, cow print miniskirts, metal halo headdresses, money print pajamas, cowrie shells and beads, gold plated mouth garbs and crystal rope neckpieces filled our screens. During a summer of great unrest, Beyoncé offered us a little joy.

If critics can receive Beyoncé’s interpretation of New Orleans as a “fantastical post-Katrina hellscape”, then is it possible for critics and audiences to later receive Beyoncé’s Black Is King as a fictionalized pre-or post-colonial dreamscape?