Homecoming is Beyonce’s concert documentary which she herself directed of her 2018 Coachella performance. It’s on Netflix and was recently nominated for six Emmy Awards. The footage splices two different performances. It’s something that Beyonce chooses to highlight rather than hide: one one day, the performers are wearing yellow. On another day, the performers are wearing pink. The routine is the same, though, which adds a slight surreal element when we switch from one color to the other. The footage alternates from slick, glossy high-definition footage to artsy black-and-white close-ups to what seems to be cellphone footage.
I am not a big Beyonce fan. I recognized maybe three of the songs, with the rest blending into similar sounding ambient music. I am, however, a fan of documentaries that chronicle the behind-the-scenes work that goes into producing art. I spent a lot Homecoming‘s running time impatiently waiting through concert footage for the craftsmanship goodness. I shouldn’t have: one gives context to the other, and the polished, flawless final product only becomes more impressive when you see tailors sew the costumes and dancers perform at auditions.
Beyonce in particular is very much about projecting the image of a strong, independent feminist icon who is looked upon with adoring eyes by her legions of adoring fans as evidenced in the concert footage. She is, though, also a human being. A mother of three who just gave birth to twins and has to lose that weight before her appearance at Coachella. (She’s the the first African American woman to ever headline Coachella, and the weight of what that represents weighs heavily.) There’s a montage that spans several months that tracks her progress as she practices her dance routines. She runs out of breath at a few points. In my favorite scene in the documentary, she discovers with excitement that she can fit into her old costume again. She’s so excited that she puts Jay-Z on FaceTime, who responds with half-hearted appreciation. Beyonce gives a bemused, “Why are men never that excited?” remark. It turns Beyonce the icon into a woman you can recognize as a regular, everyday person with the same concerns about her health and about career.
This, too, is part of the Beyonce image, but a relatable one.
The crew rented out three adjoining soundstages filled with a massive crew that practiced for six months. The documentary unveiled an aspect of Beyonce that I did not expect: Beyonce the historian and cultural preservationist. Her ambitious goal with her performance was the preserve on stage (and on film) the musical culture of historically Black colleges and universities (or HBCUs). Her pop and R&B songs are backed by a full marching band — accompanied by a string section — that performs on the bleachers. A drumline takes the stage to perform a solo number while, I’m assuming, Beyonce takes time for a costume change. This is her snapshot of the rhythms, the music, and the dance of African-American culture, one that goes invisible to the public at large but is ever present and important to the community.
I mentioned that I wished I liked Beyoncé’s music more, because the show itself is great. The way the dancers move is like watching liquid take human form. I could watch a whole show featuring just the dancers, who have a preternatural sense of body control. The choreography is big and bold, using the entire space of the bleachers and the catwalk that makes it seem the performers are wading into the audience. The staging is larger than life… literally, at one point, when a giant Beyoncé looks on the screen behind the bleachers. Like I said, I’m not a Beyonce fan… but there were moments during the show where my jaw did drop. That’s not an expression. I noticed my mouth was agape at some of the staging. Chalk it up to Beyonce’s amazing showmanship, her instincts, and months of hard work.