‘Radical’ Super Bowl sparks anti-Beyoncé rally

Okay, ladies: Beyoncé’s Formation has been called a ‘slap in the face to law enforcement’. © PA

It has been four days since Beyoncé took the half-time stage at the Super Bowl. But her symbolic performance invoking anti-racist movements is still causing controversy. What happened?

Drums. Three lines of black women in berets and leather, the uniform of the militant Black Panther Party. The eyes of more than 100 million Americans.

The drummers part. Beyoncé, in leather, with gold sashes made of bullets, looks into the camera. ‘Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation.’ She drops. ‘Prove to me you got some coordination.’ She stands. She and her dancers raise their fists in the air in a black power salute.

These opening moments of Beyoncé’s performance at the Super Bowl this weekend rocked America to its core. An ‘anti-Beyoncé protest rally’ has been organised outside the NFL headquarters next week, accusing her of a ‘race-baiting’ performance. A former New York City mayor described it as an ‘outrageous’ attack on law enforcement.

Is that true? The Black Panthers swore to protect black communities from violent police ‘by any means necessary’ and their co-founder Huey Newton was accused of murdering a police officer. Although the song Formation does not tell its listeners to take up arms, it is certainly a rallying cry — and it has become an instant classic, even a ‘masterpiece’, for the same reason. It skilfully celebrates Beyoncé’s southern black heritage, while protesting against the injustices which that same culture has faced.

From historic racism, to the New Orleans floods, to recent accusations of police brutality, there is no shortage of grievances.

Formation was also released to coincide with Black History Month and the birthdays of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland, whose deaths were significant moments for the Black Lives Matter movement — which has just received a donation of $1.5m from Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z. None of this is coincidence.

Race has always been a difficult and divisive issue in the USA. Now Beyoncé has brought it right into the spotlight — and provided an anthem.

I slay, I slay

Transforming a commercial event into a political protest quickly drew criticism. Sport is not the place for this, say some — particularly when it invokes an extreme group like the Black Panthers, once labelled the ‘greatest threat’ to US security by the FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover. Others argue that it is a cynical business move, orchestrated to capitalise on anti-racism movements; tickets to the Formation tour will cost up to $300.

But Beyoncé’s contribution to the debate will have a massive political effect, say others. These are serious issues, and music can communicate something that policy debate cannot: a spirit and emotion that unites audiences and forces them to listen. Beyoncé, as the most powerful pop star alive, was the perfect person to make this statement. With all America watching, the Super Bowl was the perfect place.

You Decide

  1. Was Beyoncé wrong to pay tribute to a militant movement like the Black Panthers?
  2. ‘Music is the most effective medium for politics.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, write a song about a political issue you care about.
  2. Research the history of the Black Panthers, who were first formed 50 years ago. Plan an essay exploring the ethics of militant and non-violent protest.

Some People Say...

“Protest should always be non-violent — no matter what.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What does a pop star know about politics?
Beyoncé is not just any pop star, and this is not her first foray into political debates. In 2014, she performed in front of a giant sign reading ‘FEMINIST’ at the Virgin Music Awards. She has also been vocal in her support for the Black Lives Matter movement; she and Jay-Z helped to bail protesters out of jail after riots in Ferguson and Baltimore.
Why is the Super Bowl so important?
It has become a huge cultural event in the USA — Sunday’s game was the third most watched programme in television history. It has become just as famous for its $4m advertising space and spectacular half-time shows as for its sport. Interestingly, this year the event was held just 50 miles from Oakland, California, the city where the Black Panthers were founded.

Word Watch

Black Panther Party
The group was formed in 1966 a year after the militant civil rights leader Malcolm X was assassinated. It aimed to fight back against police brutality, while providing support to black communities such as the ‘free breakfast program’.
Super Bowl
The final American football game of the National Football League.
Accused
Newton was first convicted, and later acquitted for the shooting of the Oakland police officer John Frey. The incident occurred after Newton was pulled over by Frey, who then called for back up. Newton was also shot, but survived.
New Orleans
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused massive floods in New Orleans. They disproportionately affected the black community, which mostly lived in low-lying areas of the city.
Police brutality
Trayvon Martin was an unarmed black teenager shot by the community officer George Zimmerman in 2012. His death is one of several which have sparked protests in the USA in recent years.
Black Lives Matter
A movement which raises awareness of racism, particularly police violence, against black people in the USA and elsewhere.

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