Is it okay for a critic to say, “I respect this work of art, and I am not fully qualified to speak to the profundity of the text?”
Because that’s where I find myself with Beyonce’s Lemonade, a remarkable visual album that she released under a cloak of complete secrecy last night. HBO made the one-hour program available twice on their channel during their free-preview-weekend, and it was also available for 24 hours via HBO Now, the app that I have. I don’t have cable, and I don’t like cable. I want the right to consume things a la carte, and anything I can do to support that media model, I do. I will pay providers for content, but I want to do it the way I want to do it. Because it was on HBO Now, I’ve been able to watch the film repeatedly, stopping it, grabbing some stills from it. It may be gone tomorrow, but for now, I’m enjoying it, and part of the enjoyment is realizing that I’m not getting everything it’s doing, and I’ll need help to get there.
I look at this film, this collaboration between Beyonce Knowles Carter and a fistful of filmmakers including Mark Romanek, Kahlil Joseph, and Melina Matsoukas, and I am overwhelmed by it. It is powerful and it is personal, and it is full of cultural touchstones that are not mine. Tonight, I’ll be reading as much as I can about how other people are reacting to it because I’m genuinely curious. I would love to have it decoded and digested by writers who share more common cultural ground with Beyonce, and I am also excited to read how other people in my own position react, people coming at it from the outside. That is one of my favorite kinds of art, art that challenges me to adopt a perspective that is not my own. I can react to it in my way, and I know that my reaction is not universal. And yet, there are things about it that I found immediately moving, immediately pulling me in