115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Getting in Formation: Beyoncé and Black Feminism

Sarita Cannon, San Francisco State University

Critically unpacking Beyoncé's film Lemonade in the classroom brings to life the dynamic, playful, and vital black feminist theoretical tradition and encourages students to consider culture as a series of dynamic, ongoing dialogues that manifest across various media. Beyoncé, in dialogue with black feminist critics like Christian, urges us to “get in formation” by bridging the gap between theory and praxis.

Proposal: 

The cultural impact of Beyoncé’s stunning 2016 film Lemonade continues to be felt a year after its release.  This particular work is revolutionary not only because it bears the traces of a wide range of musical, artistic, and spiritual legacies, but also because it features a multiple representations of black women and girls, a group that is often depicted as one-dimensional in mainstream culture.  Lemonade has also inspired a crowd-sourced syllabus curated by doctoral student Candice Benbow and at least one college course, illustrating its infiltration into academic circles as well. I examine how teaching excerpts from Lemonade in an undergraduate course on feminist literary criticism may inform the way that we think about what “theory” looks like and what purpose it serves. In particular, Beyoncé’s work embodies Barbara Christian’s assertion from her 1987 essay “The Race For Theory”: “For people of color have always theorized – but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic. And I am inclined to say that our theorizing (and I intentionally use the verb rather than the noun) is often in narrative forms, in the stories we create, in riddles and proverbs, in the play with language, because dynamic rather than fixed ideas seem more to our liking” (68). Critically unpacking Lemonade in the classroom brings to life the dynamic, playful, and vital black feminist theoretical tradition and encourages students to consider culture as a series of dynamic, ongoing dialogues that manifest across various media. Beyoncé, in dialogue with black feminist critics like Christian, urges us to “get in formation” by bridging the gap between theory and praxis.