The Speculative Image Economy in Beyonce’s Formation Video

beyonce formation

Whew.

The Saturday before the superbowl was a day for a whole lot of us. In case you’re a member of the deprived class of individuals who haven’t heard, Beyoncé blessed us lowly mortals with a blacktastic work of art in the form of her new single (with accompanying video). The title: Formation. She then went on to black up the superbowl.

In Formation, Bey calls up New Orleans, with features from Messy Mya and Big Freedia alongside references to staples of southern culture and bombastic, cocky lyrics about herself. The song and video were a masterpiece in my opinion, if for no other reason than it has a certain segment of black America feeling themselves, and a certain segment of white America about to crap a brick.

All that said, I’m going to step away from the head on analyses of this song and its video. So many others who are much more holistic thinkers than I have done the heavy lifting work of analyzing Formation: Zandria F. Robinson. Regina Bradley. Mikki Kendall. adrienne maree brown. Nah, for this, I’m thinking almost entirely about how these visuals struck black country southern me, and how I envision them through my own filter as an author of black southern speculative fiction.

The above tweet, coupled with a few other random comments I’ve seen about the photo at the top of the page got me to thinking about how the imagery in the Formation video, aside from being the perfect shade of black that the people need in this moment, also calls forth the kinds of magical resistance and familiar, visionary swagger that inspires someone like me–or someone like a 14 year old budding writer from Louisiana, Alabama, or Mississippi. For that phantom kid, that’s their life. They have a direct spiritual or ancestral line to the kinds of things–violent and not–that Bey’s putting out right now.

The sacrifical element of the final image in the video, that of Beyoncé using herself and her body in a final act of immense power to vanquish the great evil that is the police car–itself an optic white Agent Smith to our collective Neo is gold (also one that us black men, ashies and all, should pay mighty close attention to). The image of little black girls dressed in white with their hair in curly black halos and plaits, skipping around a sepia-toned space to a rhythm known only to them calls to mind Tan-Tan Habib. The young black boy, cloaked in shadow and dancing for his life before the assembled armored hordes of white supremacy could be Dwayne Taylor in another universe. Would Carlos Delacruz or Damali Richards kick it with the assembled spirits of New Orleans?

And, I think, most importantly, what kinds of things would be birthed from the minds of the children that I alluded to earlier. If everything were to line up just right–those babies receiving the right amount of nurturing and space and meeting the right individual to give them the opportunity to tell the story welling up within them–what kinds of amazing, fantastic tales would they come up with? What would I come up with? Or you?

For many of us, the call to formation is a call to arms, a call to get to work. For us black writers of speculative and not, its time to dip our nibs in that hot sauce or that potlikker and write for our lives.

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