Black Women’s Empowerment in Beyonce’s Lemonade
Beyoncé’s second visual album, Lemonade, is a masterpiece at its finest. Lemonade was created to reveal Beyoncé’s responses to the infidelity of a significant other, the empowerment of African American women, and police brutality. The most important theme is black women’s empowerment. Lemonade addresses black women’s empowerment by placing black women of different shapes and sizes into her visual album; in addition, Beyoncé has changed the stereotypes of how women act in music videos, and challenges how black women are viewed altogether.
Lemonade shines light on the empowerment of African American women by trying to detach women from the negative stereotypes that have been forced upon them. Some people may think that all black women are the same in every aspect, but that is far from true. Beyoncé takes a stand in trying to remove this stereotype. bell hooks writes in her article, “Moving Beyond Pain,” that Beyoncé includes so many “diverse representations” of black women in Lemonade; these women “come in all sizes, shapes, and textures with all manner of big hair.” A stereotype of black women is that they have nappy hair and must hide it; however, Beyoncé does not care about such ignorant opinions and has just about every woman in her visual album rocking hairstyles with afros and braids. The purpose of including these hairstyles is to showcase their background and embrace the beauty of African American women’s hair.
Beyoncé also embraces the beauty of black women’s hair because there have been issues where people of different ethnicities have been claiming African American women’s cultural roots. For example, A Cosmopolitan magazine article recently attempted to claim corn rows was a new hair trend, and named the hairstyle “Double Cuff Mohawk Braids” (Wilbur). Cosmopolitan received a lot of backlash from the black community for trying to take credit for something that black people created (Wilbur).
Lemonade showcases these diverse representations of black women by using famous black women who are already in the limelight. Beyoncé empowers black women by placing iconic figures like Serena Williams, Zendaya Coleman, Amandla Stenberg, and so many others in Lemonade. These women have been talked about in a negative way by the public (Lee). Serena Williams is a famous tennis player, who has dealt with people talking about how she has a figure and is therefore unattractive. However, Sports Illustrated magazine has embraced Williams’s body by placing her on their cover. Beyoncé showcases Serena’s body in her “Sorry” video, letting Serena dance around and twerk while Beyoncé sits on a throne. Later, Beyoncé and Serena switch roles, and the full attention is on Serena Williams sitting on the throne. This picture makes it clear that both women are powerful, no matter what. In other words, Serena is showing off her confidence and she is not letting anyone bring her down with their negative commentary.
Zendaya Coleman recently received an ignorant comment by television personality Giuliana Rancic about the dreadlocks she wore on the red carpet at the Oscars. Rancic said, “I felt like she smells like patchouli oil— or weed” (Haute Whispers). This comment was just rude and obnoxious; it was uncalled for. On Twitter, Zendaya responded to Giuliana’s ignorance by continuing to empower black women. She embraced her cultural background in an educated way without letting her anger get the best of her; furthermore, Zendaya showed pride in the dreadlocks she wore. People who know these stars will watch the visual album and gain awareness of what Beyoncé is trying to accomplish.
Other scenes in Lemonade also correspond to black women’s empowerment. One scene from “Freedom,” shows Zendaya Coleman and Amandla Stenberg sitting on a tree branch. The director, Melina Matsoukas, set up the camera below the women, looking up, to show them in a position of higher power. This visual album strengthens the message of empowerment of black women because in every scene the women are looking in the camera and they are fully clothed. In most music videos women are half naked and usually do not face the camera for long. It is usually a quick glance and then they turn their head, or the picture focuses on their “assets” to gain male viewers. Lemonade changes the view on females in music videos; it challenges the idea that the music video must focus on sexualizing a woman’s appearance, and instead uses it to gain empowerment for black women and make them more confident to walk in their own skin and embrace their beauty. However, according to hooks, the “repositioning of black female images does not truly overshadow or change conventional sexist constructions of black female identity.” Nevertheless, black women have been placed on a high pedestal in this visual album, and that should be enough to commend Beyoncé for doing something that most people do not do and that is making African American women more confident than society has let them be.
Not only did Beyoncé try to raise black women above the stereotypical attitudes, she also encourages women to love themselves and have high self-esteem. Some women feel that because a man is showing them affection, it is acceptable to let him walk all over them and continue to treat them wrong over and over again. In Lemonade, Beyoncé chooses a different route and shows that it is okay to leave a relationship when one is being treated poorly. Nobody should have to put up with their significant other’s infidelity, and they should be able to love themselves enough not to subject themselves to a man who is too blind to see their worth. One of the songs on the album, “6 Inch,” empowers women to work and keep making their own money. This is an example of self-empowerment because Beyoncé is motivating herself and other women to continue to work hard and make themselves happy. She doesn’t want women to worry about a man who is playing games with them.
Lemonade has empowered black women in so many ways; the messages in this album preach about black women becoming more confident in their own skin, evidenced by the pride of black culture showcased throughout this visual album. This album shocked people because Beyoncé came out with something other than her casual clubbing or sexual music that she normally puts out. Lemonade was a game changer for Beyoncé and her fan base, known as the Beyhive, as well; she should continue to use her voice and vision to talk about social justice and the empowerment of black women because it gives recognition to black people and displays the reality of African Americans dealing with racial oppression in our society.
hooks, bell. “Moving Beyond Pain.” bell hooks Institute, 9 May 2016. www.bellhooksinstitute.com/blog/2016/5/9/moving-beyond-pain.
Haute Whispers. “Giuliana’s Racist Comments about Zendaya’s Locs, Says It Smells like Weed (Full Clip and Apology),” 24 Feb. 2015. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypeampfxtow.
Lee, Nicole. “Roxane Gay on Lemonade: ‘By the Power of Beyoncé, I’ll Overcome My Fear.’” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 May 2016, www.theguardian.com/books/ 2016/may/02/roxane-gay-Beyoncé-lemonade- women-writers-pen-festival.
Wilbur, Hayley. “‘Cosmopolitan’ Receives Major Backlash for Claiming Cornrows Are a New
Hair Trend.” Mic, 21 July 2016. mic.com/articles/149273/cosmopolitan-receivesmajor-backlash-for-claiming-cornrows-are-a-new-hair-trend#.ekcpr25jr.