The Magic Beyoncé and Melina Matsoukas Form

Beyonce, ‘Formation’
Formation (noun) – the action of forming or process of being formed.

Beyoncé understands the power of visuals. In 2013 she graced the world with an entire visual album and forever changed the way artists release music. So when she prepared Saturday, February 6, 2016, to be the day she’d return to scalp the globe with her pro-black anthem she knew she would need a video to capture the track’s grit and gutter. It would only make sense that she’d turn to Melina Matsoukas, the woman whose directed over 10 of Bey’s visuals.

While known for her vibrant colors, vintage flair, and ingenious direction, Melina does not shy away from controversy; her visuals have often either been banned or come under heavy scrutiny, but that doesn’t seem to stop the NYU and AFI alumna from creating thmelina-matsoukas-video-maven-w-magazinee most stunning videos at a time when narrative music videos seem to be declining. In her latest collaboration with Queen Bey she delves into the spirit of Southern Goth and New Orleans to bless viewers with a healthy dose of #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackExcellence, #BlackEverything.

“I got hot sauce in my bag, swag”

‘Formation’ opens with Beyoncé dressed down in a red and white calico inspired fit and black boots. She is standing atop of a partially submerged New Orleans Police squad car as the late Messy Mya states “bitch, I’m back by popular demand.” Immediately you know that what you are about to witness is unlike anything you’ve ever seen from the Beyoncé and Melina catalog. Flashes of scenes from Abteen Bagheri’s (@abteen), That B.E.A.T., give you just enough time to brace yourself before being launched into a space where the past, the present, and the future intertwine at the picturesque plantation home. Inside is Beyoncé in various Southern garb as she recites her linage:

“My daddy, Alabama. Mama, Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas Bama”

It is then that you realize Beyoncé is leading you to a place of no return. For years she has subtly distanced herself from the mainstream media that once kept her in a commercialized box. ‘Formation’ is where she breaks her silence. What we hear, and see, is a Beyoncé who is unapologetically black, who likes her “baby hair with baby hair and afros,” and her “negro nose with jackson five nostrils.” Blue Ivy Carter stands before us, her afro a glorious halo, with all of the grace and confidence that make up her celestial DNA. Melina cuts back and forth between Mother and Daughter conjuring up a spirit, a tangible feeling, so visceral and magical it belongs in a Toni Morrison novel.


Formation’ is an homage. As Beyoncé sits in a sparse room in a corset, twirling an umbrella, pictures of her ancestors behind her, Melina has expertly woven generations together illustrating the shoulders upon which Beyoncé, Blue, and all black women stand. One of the most powerful moments is the performance scene in the middle of the home’s hallway. Beyoncé and her dancers are clothed in maroon leotards with deep necklines and dancing fiercely as Bey declares:

“I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it.”


Amidst those walls where Bey, and crew, dance with a dominant strut are the spirits of the women who once walked those halls as servants, violently stripped of the ability to work toward any dream, let alone own it. Women who were incapable of any agency over their own bodies and sexualities. No one captures that spirit with the same poignancy as Melina who places one of the most powerful women in spaces that once existed as oppressive structures for black bodies and souls, thus, reforming the image–reclaiming power and restoring dignity to what we’ve too long been made to feel ashamed of. 

While managing to insert her signature vibrant color schemes Melina continues to push the envelope as she makes some of her boldest statements yet. As the black boy in his hoodie dances before the line of SWAT officers, and the NOLA squad car submerges, and
the graffiti demanding “stop shooting us” pans across the screen, we see Melina brilliantly tackling police brutality and the incessant violent assault on black lives and bodies. This is not solely Melina’s boldest move, it is also Beyoncé’s. For a womantumblr_o25mci3Bo51qf29nao2_500 who is so calculated  and strategic with her image Beyoncé needed a vision she could trust to handle the most controversial moment of her career with grace. Melina is who Beyoncé trusts. Time and time again these two forces prove that when combined they are nothing short of Magical.

“Ok, ladies, now let’s get in formation.”


BlackGirlMagic, A debate?

It’s common knowledge that whenever a black woman does anything she, and her actions, are subject to heavy debate. Be it dancing, hairstyle choices, or expressing self-love, she does not exist without scrutiny. So, of course when the #BlackGirlMagic movement made it’s arrival onto the pages of TeenVogue and Essence, someone was going to have something to say about it, what I didn’t expect to see was the latest article by Dr. Lina Chavers published on

“Black girl magic suggests we are, again, something other than human.” – Dr. Linda Chavers

Huh? That’s the exact question I asked myself after reading that article because nowhere did I see the connection between Dr. Chaver’s argument that BlackGirlMagic denies black women of their humanity, and the reality of what BlackGirlMagic means to all of the black women supporting the hashtag/movement. She even goes on to suggest that BlackGirlMagic is responsible for the egregious sexual and violent crimes committed against black women:

“When I see “black girl magic,” I think, was Sandra Bland not magical enough? Renisha McBride? Miriam Carey? Perhaps she’d been trying to be magical and, failing, started to blame herself instead.”- Dr. Linda Chavers

What? I expected these questions, I expected these implications, but I didn’t expect them from a black woman, let alone a black woman scholar. Perhaps I was naive in my own thinking that we understood BlackGirlMagic existed as a place for us not to be superwoman, but to be human, to recognize the humanity of our fallen sisters, and to raise awareness of those whose inhumane treatments outrage no one except us.

Luckily, rebuttals to Dr. Chavers stretch of an argument rose up expertly defending, and reminding, naysayers what BlackGirlMagic is.

One is from @amyjuicebox who wrote in her article for Blavity:

“#BlackGirlMagic isn’t about dehumanizing black women, who are called upon time and time again to exercise super-human strength and ridiculous levels of forgiveness in the face of every “-ism” in the book. It’s for every girl who needs #YouOkSis when she’s harassed on the street. It’s for the young women who are accused of being ##FastTailedGirls. #BlackGirlMagic wasn’t what killed Sandra Bland, it’s what got her name out there in the first place. #BlackGirlMagic wasn’t what put Marissa Alexander in prison, it’s what eventually got her out.” – Amy Juicebox 

And another rebuttal arrived from Ashley Ford (@iSmashFizzle), whose piece was published on

“Black Girl Magic moves way beyond the trope of impenetrable strength, and because it was created by a black woman, includes the inside joke of calling what we’ve always known to be real about our capabilities “magic.” [CaShawn] Thompson knew what she was doing, and she did it well. She helped us name the unique experience of living in this world as black women and finding a way to cross that line. She helped me name exactly what made me feel so close to Grace. She gave Harriet’s dream a name. There’s no limiting of humanity in the rhetoric here. In fact, she gave us just the opposite.” – Ashley Ford

What I appreciate about these rebuttals is the fact that they are not centered on attacking on Dr. Chavers. But perhaps the reason Dr. Chavers’ escaped such personal criticism is because her argument is not hers alone. Its echoes the sentiment of those who have an incessant need to check Beyonce’s feminist card while ignoring the transgressions of those whom they hail as queens of that movement, those who found no qualms with the all-white cast of Suffrage donning a “feminist” t-shirt, those who cry out that a show called Black Girl’s Rock is somehow exclusionary despite the fact that the Academy Awards has, once again, failed to recognize the achievements of creators of color.

These criticisms don’t usually come from those who look like us, so when Ashley and Amy offered such eloquent rebuttals, I believed their words existed to extend beyond Dr. Chavers and sit in front of those who will try to use her article as a means to denounce the BlackGirlMagic movement. Or I could be a conspiracy theorist, however, I found it quite peculiar that an article questioning a black woman’s empowerment movement would surface on a magazine site conspicuously targeted to white women–(TeenVogue republished the Blavity rebuttal on their site).  If this debate, or question, is being raised about a black women’s movement, why is it existing on a white women’s platform?

One only needs to look to twitter for some answers:

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@ztsamudzi‘s commentary is my particular favorite


Zoe S timeline1