I want to construct the theory that Beyonce was directly referencing Beloved, the book by Toni Morrison and the haunting character reincarnated in the novel with her video “Formation.”
Reasons for these beliefs are as follows:
- Cover art of Beloved hand-in-hand with stills from Beyonce’s video for “Formation.”
- Beloved (the character) comes from the water, a symbol of “New Life” and purity. Beyonce sinks into the water as a comment on the government’s reaction (and the people of America, we’re all complicit) to New Orleans after Katrina. But also, she makes a call to justice and a call to new perspective on race relations in America, particularly with white police officers and black men.
- School Teacher, who comes for Sethe in the book, could be seen as the police in Beyonce’s video.
- Both texts reference “baby hair.” “Formation”: I like my baby heir, with baby hair and afros. Beloved: “Instead she gazed at Sethe with sleepy eyes. Poorly fed, thought Sethe, and younger than her clothes suggested–good lace at the throat, and a rich woman’s hat. Her skin was flawless except for three vertical scratches on her forehead so fine and thin they seemed at first like hair, baby hair before it bloomed and roped into the masses of black yarn under her hat…her feet were like her hands, soft and new” (62).
- Beyonce seems “haunted” in the scene at the plantation house where she wears all black and is surrounded by men in black suits. She keeps bobbing her head up and down to the beat in a ghostly fashion. Beloved is a ghost that haunts the house and is known as “crawling-already.” Then, returns from the grave. A reincarnation much like the rising up of New Orleans after Katrina — on its own mind you — because our government sucks sometimes.
- Sethe doesn’t really understand her own history, but her husband Halle comes from Baby Suggs who is well-known as a priestess in the community. Beyonce references her heritage several times in the story. While Sethe doesn’t know her heritage, Beloved comes back from the dead to honor her mother, her heritage.
- Beyonce claims to “twirl on the haters.” It can be argued that Sethe, by slitting the throat of her daughter, “twirled on” School Teacher who thought that he could take Sethe and all her children in as runaway slaves.
- In the scene below, Beyonce acts as a “Mrs. Garner” of high class woman of the South who gave Sethe the only thing she ever truly owned, diamond earrings.
- Beyonce repeats “I Slay,” while Sethe literally slays her child by slitting her throat in a hurried effort to save her from slavery and School Teacher.
- Both women also take great pride in their children, Sethe to the point of saving them by murdering them and Beyonce by having her daughter dance in her highly-acclaimed music video.
- Beyonce says at the end of the song, “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation,” while Sethe is the talk of the town after her behavior with School Teacher and Baby Suggs in front of her sons and family.
- Red Lobster is where Beyonce takes her man, letting him also take her chopper to the mall for some j’s while Sethe is completely supportive of Paul D in the novel. To the point that she supports him before he can get back to work and sleeps with him regularly.
- The men in the background of the actual song also sound an awful lot like Paul D and his “baby, baby, baby,” neediness. He even calls Beloved’s sexuality her “shine,” while today we have “glo up” (not mentioned in Beyonce’s video, but just a correlation).
- At the end of Beyonce’s video there is a congregation worshipping at church. This could be a direct reference to Baby Sugg’s forest homily’s in Beloved. Baby Suggs manages to conjure the spirit for the people of her community the same way the spirit finds its way into Beyonce’s video.
There you have it. As much argument as I can puzzle together for Beyonce making a direct connection to Beloved by Toni Morrison. If so, those are some powerful allusions, if not, it’s fun to try to prove it.
*Here’s an article on what to read after watching “Lemonade.”
*Also, the speaking intro of “Hold Up” is basically Beloved, yet again where Beyonce says things like, “Tried to be soft, prettier, less … awake. Fasted for 60 days. Wore white. Abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex. Slowly did not speak another word. In that time, my hair I grow past my ankles. I slept on a mat on a floor. I swallowed a sword. I levitated. I went to the basement. Confessed my sins and was baptized in a river. Got on my knees and said amen and said I mean. I whipped my own back…” This is eerily similar to Beloved by Toni Morrison. Check out the stills from the video:
Milk also commented on how much Toni Morrison influenced Beyonce even commenting that “Lemonade is like seeing her words come to life.”
Vox too. Man, I had no idea people thought this.