“Whiteness still believes it can teach us to tell our own story…Don’t mess with our Beyoncé!”: Brazil’s ‘Beyhive’ checks professor after “Black is King” criticism

Singer IZA (at right) was one of numerous prominent Afro-Brazilians that criticized Professor Lilia Moritz Schwarcz article about Beyoncé's "Black is King" clip

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Note from BW of Brazil: If you live in the United States, no one has tell you about the enormous influence and star power that someone like Beyoncé Knowles-Carter yields. The public has been enamored with Knowles since she debuted with her trio Destiny’s Child back in late 1997. But it was really in the early 2000’s when she went solo that her star really began to explode to the point that, between then and now, some music critics are beginning to seriously consider if Bey has actually surpassed the self defined “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson, as the greatest live performer in American Pop/Black Music history.

Ain’t trying to start nothing here, but personally, in terms of all around performer, I would place the artist who was once known as Prince, formerly known as Prince and then known as Prince again, before either of them. If we consider just the modern era of R&B/Soul music, I still don’t see any of them topping the Godfather, James Brown in his prime. But that’s another discussion..

For now, I just wonder if Mrs. Knowles-Carter actually knows how much she is admired and loved not just in Brazil but specifically by black Brazilian women. Beyoncé’s rise to Pop royalty has coincided with the simultaneous rise of black identity politics in Brazil that was, for the most part, spearheaded by black women. As Joshua Reason points out in the book Black Resistance in the Americas, with her visual album Lemonande, Beyoncé “garnered mass popularity within Afro-Brazilian communities due to its visual and musical reflections on Black womanhood collective memory and other forms of Black aesthetics.”

I have long discussed how Brazil has seemed to have purposely assured that a black woman could not rise to the level of a Beyoncé or a Whitney Houston in the country’s music industry, even though a number of Afro-Brazilian women have done quite well for themselves, specifically in the past decade.

But even as artists such as Ludmilla and IZA have climbed the ranks of Brazilian Popular Music, in terms of sales and income, they still haven’t been able enter the big money/sales circles dominated by artists performing under the ever popular Sertaneja music market, which is dominated by white singers, duos and groups. 

This is clearly one of the reasons that so many black Brazilian women see in Beyoncé an enormous source of representation. In Beyoncé they see a black woman that is arguably one of top musical artists, not just in the US, but in the world. Here is a black woman who has conquered the music world in a country that many deem to be the most racist on the planet. Interestingly, Brazil never seems to want to face the fact that the difficulty of a black female singer rising to such heights in Brazil’s music industry speaks volumes about the country’s own tactics of keeping its black entertainers in a certain “place”. 

Within this context, when B released her “Black is King” clip a few weeks back, the level that Brazil’s black community identifies with and defends Beyoncé was on full display when one of the country’s most important anthropologists criticized the Pop queen’s nod to Afrofuturism. When anthropologist/historian Lilia Moritz Schwarcz wrote a front page for Brazil’s most important newspaper, Folha de São PauloBrazil’s “Beyhive” came out in full force attack mode and needless to say, the University of São Paulo/Princeton professor got stung pretty bad.

Of course, for those following the story in Brazil, this story is old, but you have to forgive a brotha just reporting on it now. I’ve just been too busy as of late to get to the story, but for those who are really into Bey, it’s still worth checking out how another black community reacted to her being criticized by someone who they feel is “out of place” to make such critiques. 

Check the story below…

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Singer IZA (at right) was one of numerous prominent Afro-Brazilians that criticized Professor Lilia Moritz Schwarcz article about Beyoncé’s “Black is King” clip

Black is king: Discussions generated after the release of Beyoncé’s film 

After its release, ‘Black is King’ was one of the most talked about subjects on social media

Courtesy of Correio Braziliense

It’s not just now that a production by the singer Beyoncé gained repercussion soon after its release. With her latest project, “Black is King”, created to enhance black culture by recreating the story of The Lion King, it would be no different. Although only part was made available, the material took on the hashtag #BlackisKing and the release became one of the most commented topics of Brazils black community on Twitter, generating discussions on social networks, resulting in praise and criticism from the media. It was cheered by fans and, mainly, brought issues surrounding the representation of black and African cultures.

Check out a compilation of what was commented on and discussed about Beyoncé’s recent creation

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University of São Paulo/Princeton Professor Lilia Moritz Schwarcz was heavily criticized by Brazil’s black community after her critique of Beyoncé’s “Black is King” appeared in the Folha de São pau,o newspaper

Production in the context of the anti-racist struggle in Brazil

On Sunday (2/8), anthropologist and historian Lilia Moritz Schwarcz published an article in her column in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper in which she questioned some of Beyoncé’s decisions. A professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the University of Princeton, in the United States, she complained that “Beyoncé is wrong in glamorizing blackness with leopard print”, as stated in the title of the publication. The professor summed it up in the article’s subtitle: “Pop diva needs to understand that the anti-racist fight is not just about pomp, Hollywood artifice, shine and crystal”.

It didn’t take long before Schwarcz was criticized for her text. Brazilian artists and activists, such as IZA, Tia Má, Ícaro Silva and Luana Xavier, spoke out. “Lilia, the one who needs to understand is me. I need to understand what a privilege it is that makes you think that you have some authority to teach a black woman how she should or should not talk about her people”, published the singer Iza.

The actor Ícaro Silva said he was embarrassed to be a contemporary of the anthropologist. “I see no way to defend your overt racism, your elitist white arrogance in giving yourself the right not only to reduce a masterpiece to the “anti-racist” niche but to believe that you have anthropological knowledge about Africa. Obviously you don’t, or you would not have reduced the skin of a sacred animal to the print that turkeys of your class insisted on appropriating in your colonialist tackiness.”

It’s worth pointing out here that IZA and Ícaro were chosen to do the Portuguese overdubs for The Lion King release last year, performing the voices in which Beyoncé and Donald Glover were originally cast.

The lawyer and also a columnist for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Thiago Amparo used his profile on Twitter to comment on the artist’s production, as well as the points in the anthropologist’s text. To do this, he brought, among other references and ideas, the concept of Afrofuturism, that is, “a cultural aesthetic that combines science fiction, history and fantasy to explore the African American experience and aims to connect those of the black diaspora with their forgotten African ancestry.”

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Response by journalist/comedian Tia Má

Official Tia Ma: “The mistake is a white woman believing she can tell a black woman how she can tell the story and narrate her ancestry. Whiteness has become accustomed to having blackness as an object of study and continues to believe that it can tell us what to talk about in our narratives and trajectories. Lilia is a historian, a researcher on slavery,? but she is far from feeling up close what it is to be a black woman. @beyonce from the top of her royalty in the pop world never stops being black, even sitting on the throne in her living room. Whiteness still believes it can teach us to tell our own story. While all black people are moved, recognized and identified, the white ally says that #beyonce leaves something to be desired! That’s it! In the end, it’s us by us and speaking for us! As an African proverb says: “Until lions tell their own stories, hunters will continue to be seen as heroes”… And here, when we tell, dramatize and sound, they want to write the script! Stop it! We are in charge of our narratives! #blackisking #bey #beyonce”

Thiago also recalled how Beyoncé, in retelling the story from the point of view of Nala, redefines the narrative male centrality, “which brings an aspect of the intersection of race and gender, essential to black feminism”. Finally, he says: “Black is King” is important, for me, because it allows us a place that is relegated to us: creating myths. It rejects the place of pain, which is not ours, but has been imposed on us. Do what myths in Greece did, do what African and indigenous elders do: tell about us from us.

After the repercussions, the anthropologist explained herself and apologized.

The debate in Africa

The release of “Black is King” accentuated another criticism that had already taken shape since the release of the first images and trailers, a month ago. In the opinion of many people born in Africa, the representation of the continent strongly linked to the jungle is pejorative. The topic sparked several debates on social networks.

The French publication The Africa Report highlighted posts by activists who reject the aesthetic construction created by Beyoncé in reference to such a vast and plural continent. The fact that the singer didn’t include Africa in her world tours was mentioned among the critics.

The aesthetic construction

Although the full movie is not available in Brazil, the clip for the track “Already”, sung with Ghanaian Shatta Wale and American rapper Major Lazer, was released on YouTube.

In the video, it’s possible to see the images filled with reproductions of animal skins, body paintings, props and tribal adornments. There is also a mixture of scenes in nature and in urban spaces.

“A love letter to the black diaspora”

“”Black is King” speaks of the beauty and richness of black culture, without appearing to be grotesquely rich or artificial. The film offers varied production styles: sometimes minimalist, with Beyoncé singing in vast open spaces in “Bigger”, while other sequences are intense and colorful, with vibrant images and high-energy dancers, as in “My Power””, described the British newspaper The Guardian.

In the newspaper’s assessment, the visual album sounds like “a love letter to the black diaspora, to reminds them that they are also part of something bigger” and is “convincing in every way”, highlighting that the ethnic variety and Africa’s geography is contemplated, even though there is a connection with The Lion King, which takes place mainly in the East of the continent.

As for the American magazine Variety, “Black is King’ stands out as a celebration of blackness in its many forms: black women, black men, black children, black motherhood, black fatherhood, black pasts, black gifts and black futures.”

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Comments by actress Luana Xavier

Lua Xavier: “Whiteness continues to be powerful enough to say what is right and what is wrong in black narratives. And it wears us out daily. This is a very direct video (to anyone interested). And I have one thing to say: DON’T MESS WITH OUR BEYONCE, NO! #Beyonce #BlackisKing #DivaPop #CantoraNegra #queen #queenB #QueenBey #RainhaAbsoluta

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Thiago Amparo@thiamparo (Aug 2): “Can blacks create fables, as whites have always done? Beyoncé’s film, for me, does not feature idyllic Africa. It looks like an Afrofuturistic film – that imagines the Afrocentric future. I admire Lilia a lot. Let’s not cancel, let’s talk. A thread👇🏾🧵”

(Folha headline: “BEYONCE “NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND: Beyoncé film makes a mistake in glamorizing blackness with leopard print. Pop diva needs to understand that the anti-racist fight is not just about pomp, Hollywood artifice, shine and crystal”

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Responses from singer IZA and actor Ícaro Silva

IZA@liliaschwarcz: “My angel, who needs to understand is ME, I NEED to understand…If I were you (thank God) I would be ashamed now. IMPROVE!!!”

Ícaro: “You are a great, great shame. Not only for Brazil and for the black people, but for all the peoples present here. “I see no way to defend your overt racism, your elitist white arrogance in giving yourself the right not only to reduce a masterpiece to the “anti-racist” niche but to believe that you have anthropological knowledge about Africa. A deep shame, profound embarrassment to be contemporary with this person. Leave us alone, no work of ours will be even close to your reduced understanding.”

Note from BW of Brazil: Just to close out this piece, I’d like to add that what Ms. Schwarcz also needs to understand is that the question of racism is something that people who look like her are responsible for. As such, in reality, it should be the responbility of people who look like her to solve this problem. How much more energy should we, the victims of such actions, waste on trying to fix something we didn’t create?

For centuries, black people have been victimized by an institutional practice that has been such a dominant force in maintaining such a skewed view of our very humanity. What I get from “Black is King” is that we have had to discuss the issue of racism and its effects on black bodies, minds and souls since this cruel system was created. Why must we always be at liberty to discuss only racism, as if that is that is the only realm of thought we are allowed to discuss?

The Afrofuturism movement seeks to envision another reality that we as a people would like to imagine, almost as if the world created by white supremacy, that in some ways interrupted our existence, didn’t exist. The vision is bigger than racism/white supremacy, which is perhaps why Ms. Schwarcz didn’t get it. By focusing on a racism that Ms. Schwarcz’s people created, black people as a whole have been limited from reaching a full potential. So, while Ms. Schwarcz would prefer to keep us in a box discussing something people looking like her created, she’ll have to excuse us when we want to imagine bigger and better things.

After all, we DO have the right to imagine our existence in a better world that was not purposely limited by the actions of people who look like her. 

Source: Correio Braziliense

About Marques Travae 3476 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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