Screening of ‘Lemonade’ sparks discussion on identity, race, and art

Madison Weaver, Assistant News Editor

Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” was screened in Uptown on April 20, followed by a discussion led by Dr. Jessica Williams, a women studies’ professor and black feminist activist. The event was hosted by Her Campus Bucknell, the Women’s Resource Center, and the Griot Institute for Africana Studies. The event was conceived by Amanda Relick ’17.

The event began with a short introduction given by Williams before the screening.

“Lemonade” is a 60-minute film that accompanies Beyoncé’s music album, interspersed with poetry by Warsan Shire. It features numerous artists and athletes as well as mothers whose sons were victims of police violence.

Williams, whose interests include identity, weight, women, social justice, and leadership, taught a course in fall 2016 at the California State University titled “Black Feminist Thought, Consciousness and Activism.” She and her students focused on the question “Is Beyoncé a feminist?” and examined “Lemonade” as part of their study.

“Imagine if you’re holding a diamond in your hand, and you look at it from different angles, it doesn’t change what it is but you’re able to look at it from different facets and you’re able to see different things looking at it from different angles. That’s what we did with ‘Lemonade,’” Williams said. “The thing never changes, but my perception changes.”

Williams began the discussion, encouraging anyone with a comment or questions to tell the group what parts of the visual album stuck out to them.

“Every woman in the video from the little girl to the older women, they had different sizes, different hairstyles, and it was their natural hair, lots of traditional African hairstyles,” Jorden Sneed ’17 said, commenting on the way “Lemonade” “destabiliz[es] that standard of beauty we have in our society.”

The topics included emotional vulnerability and strength, racial stereotypes, relationships, activism, Black Lives Matter, natural hair, beauty standards, and body image.

“We discussed how our identities can place us in different cages of femininity. For instance, black women are expected to be aggressive while white women are expected to be docile, which are stereotypes deeply rooted in the racist and sexist history of the United States,” Relick said.

Students addressed the different stereotypes of black women that visual album adheres to, breaks away from, and comments on. Attendees also talked about the differences between Beyoncé as an artist and activist compared to Beyoncé as a celebrity and performer, leading to larger questions about the roles of wealth and power in activism.

The conversation lasted over an hour, and students were impressed by the depth and breadth of the discussion.

“I liked that Dr. Williams called out people in order to get people to express their thoughts and for the discussion to receive diverse opinions. Overall, the event allowed me to think introspectively about my own definition of feminism and how the music I listen to contributes to that ideology,” Sneed said.

Williams’ goal is to get students thinking about lives other than their own, as well as discussing ideas that they are curious about, even if a student does not have a fully formed opinion.

“I hope that students took away a different way of understanding each other, maybe a different way of understanding themselves. What’s going to become so important, especially on our college campuses, is extending empathy,” Williams said. “To look at [Beyoncé’s] story and say, ‘That’s not my story but it meant something to me, and it meant something different to the woman who is sitting next to me.’”

“Whether or not you are a fan of Beyoncé or ‘Lemonade,’ the conversation we had about the film sparked some very important discussions about womanhood and activism,” Relick said.

Williams welcomed social media use during and after the talk, encouraging students to post photos, quotes, or concepts from the discussion. Usually giving lectures and facilitating discussion on authenticity in leadership in higher education programs where Williams has previously taught, this was her first traveling event.

“I like to talk to young people, students. I love that college time. It’s such a beautiful, transformative time where you’re coming into your own,” Williams said.

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