The last few weeks have been exciting in the media. Having previously written about Beyoncé’s new secretive world premiere, it turned out to be a vivid artistic expression of womanhood, addressing issues of infidelity, self-worth, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It would be accurately stated that it is a celebration of black feminism – from cultural references to voodoo, colonial oppression of the American South, and Afro-futurist utopian imagery.
This artwork places the power firmly in the hands of the “black” woman, mainly represented by Beyoncé, but also in moments – Serena Williams, Zendaya, and Quavenzhane Wallis, to name a few. The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner are featured – all of their sons were killed by police mainly on the grounds of their race. A quote from Malcolm X is also used: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected woman in America is the black woman.” Well, Beyoncé, many others are having no more of that!
This film, if nothing else, is a world where those who have faced injustice – whether by culture, sexism, infidelity, violence, or racism – are reinstated and hailed. It shows how the world should be. Not how it is. With powerful imagery of Beyoncé walking out of a courthouse with water pouring out, possibly symbolising the verdict on injustice (in the context of the unfaithful relationship portrayed, as well as on a larger scale), there comes a whole stream of important emotions and messages. Whether it is the anger, combined with reinstated self-confidence portrayed as Beyoncé wreaks havoc on some cars and property in downtown New Orleans, or the sorrow and sombre reflection portrayed in the meeting of women in a rural farm setting – everything is intentional and packed with meaning.
Closer to home, Laura Mvula, an African-British artist, recently filmed and released her new single, Phenomenal woman. Filmed on the streets of the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, it is a colourful celebration of Africa, featuring only black people and a plethora of different cultural fusions. The song itself has strong similarities to Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Phenomenal Woman”. If Laura did use this as inspiration, it is a genius adaptation with the same imagery reshuffled to create a song that is all about texture and vibrant repetition. Check the video out below.
You may find it strange that I – a white South African male – am writing about African women. But I believe that this portrayal of strong women in Africa is not only definitely needed, but extremely important for our future as a nation and a continent.
The way black women are portrayed in the media – the rolemodels young girls have when they turn on the radio, watch on television or read about – is important, as it socially defines what they can become. Today’s impressionable girls are the future leaders and mothers of the following leaders of Africa. If things continue, this representation of powerful black women will directly affect two generations, at least. If valuing them highly is being a feminist, then I am one.
Art is meant to make people think. It is meant to challenge our perspective and our actions. I hope that there is a whole lot more where these examples came from. We need it to direct our future both culturally and socially. I hope you agree.