Like a big chunk of pop culture-obsessed America, I signed up for a free trial of TIDAL last month so I could watch Lemonade, the new visual album from Beyoncé, along with the rest of Twitter. And like that chunk, I too forgot to cancel and I'm probably just going to keep it. Hey, there's some good stuff on there that Spotify doesn't have.
For those of you who don't know, Lemonade is Beyoncé's sixth solo album. It contains such songs as "Formation," "Freedom," and my personal favorite, "Sorry." Its visual component features the poetry of Warsan Shire and a gorgeous, twerking Serena Williams, along with other cameos. It also shows the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner – black men who lost their lives in the last few years to senseless violence on the part of law enforcement. There was a lot to unpack, but that's not what I'm here to do.
I love the music of Lemonade and am fascinated by the hour-long video that goes with it, but I also fully accept that this album was not made for me. And while I am not a participant in any conversation about what Beyoncé's Lemonade means to black women, I am really glad I got to be a witness to one. The Portland Center for Public Humanities at Portland State University and the Northwest Film Center teamed up to present a screening of the visual album, followed by a panel of a dozen women of color. What followed was unlike anything I, a cisgender white lady in a boring, beige, white person bubble, have ever heard.
First of all, it was a very different experience to see Lemonade on a giant screen in surround sound with a group of strangers, compared to the tiny Lemonade viewing party I hosted at my apartment (although mine *did* have summer shandy). Second of all, the conversation that followed it was very different from the conversation I saw on white person twitter after it dropped. In the days after Lemonade came out, the internet lost its collective beyhive mind. We watched, live, as Beyoncé sang and spoke about her feelings and emotional battles, something a usually-guarded star like her keeps pretty under wraps in interviews. But the immediate takeaways were about the state of her marriage and some designer lady no one had ever heard of until that night. At the panel I saw, no one was there to speculate about infidelity, and Jay-Z's name was barely mentioned. The panelists were there for Beyoncé, for the experience of black womanhood.
Originally planned for a classroom on PSU's campus, the event saw overwhelming interest on social media and was later moved to the 500-person capacity Whitsell Auditorium. Tickets for the free event "sold out" immediately, and a waitlist was added. Organizers said the panel went from four people to a 11, plus a moderator.
While some criticism was levied against Beyoncé, most panelists' response to Lemonade was positive. Some noted a lack of transwomen presented in the film – for example, while the faces of several black men who have been senselessly killed were shown, the face of Islan Nettles was missing. Others took her to task for capitalism, while acknowledging it's not Beyoncé's responsibility to be the voice of truth for every issue, ever. Still, the general consensus was that, while Beyoncé may have missed the mark in places, the piece was a collaboration of black women artists, and one that facilitated conversations like the panel's discussion, all over the world.
As we know, Portland, like most of Oregon, is so very, very white. It was great to hear women of color speak about their experiences of living here, whether they were natives or from the Midwest or the south. One panelist, Donna Maxey, is the founder and director of Race Talks, a local organization that meets in Portland regularly to have conversations about uniting to break the chains of racism. Events take place the second Tuesday of each month.
"White people like everything about black people except black people," said Maxey. "Our music, our vocabulary. Beyoncé is one black woman and we are not a monolith. Quit hating us because we are wonderful. Look up the 1% to see what's really happening in this world," said Maxey.
Much has been written about Lemonade, and I recommend you check out what has been said about it by women of color. If you want to see Lemonade yourself, you can buy it on iTunes or stream it on TIDAL. I know, I know, you don't want to get another music streaming service. But! Apple Music is garbage and Spotify doesn't have any of the Prince catalogue or the new Radiohead album, so TIDAL is worth at least trying for a month.