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Broncos nation certainly has cause to celebrate after Sunday’s game. Similarly, Beyoncé’s politically-charged halftime show warrants both praise and defense against conservative backlash.
The Super Bowl continues to reign as the most-watched television event in the nation year after year, with more than 114 million viewers in 2015, making it a significant platform for advertising and culture in America. Beyoncé’s performance of her newest single “Formation” made a bold statement about the troubling racial climate that continues to pervade the U.S. Beyoncé’s all-female dance squad sported tipped berets and black leather in an homage to the Black Panther Party, which was founded 50 years ago.
For those who have been living under a rock, the song’s music video depicts Beyoncé on top of a sinking New Orleans police car and a young black boy, likely a reference to Tamir Rice, dancing in a hoodie in front of a SWAT team. The scene is followed by a shot of graffiti reading “Stop shooting us.” It was released on Feb. 5, the date that Trayvon Martin would have celebrated his 21st birthday. Martin’s death in 2012 was the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The performance was met with indignation from the right, calling it “anti-police.” Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani quipped, “this is football, not Hollywood” and that the show was meant for “middle America.” GOP congressman Peter King tweeted that the act “Repeats [the] big lie of Michael Brown innocence. Cops deserve support not criminals.” In one fell swoop, the comments from King and Giuliani perfectly frame the denial of conservative white America on racial issues, and also attempt to delegitimize Beyoncé’s powerful statement about police violence against black communities.
Beyoncé has been criticized in the past for her silence on racial politics in her music and not embracing her black identity. But as the highest earning black artist of all time (surpassing even Prince and Michael Jackson) she walks a fine line between being “not black enough” and now, after Sunday’s performance, “too black.”
It seems that white America’s love for Beyoncé hangs on this condition, that she remain apolitical in her art about race issues. For now, she has crossed the line by bringing black culture and heritage into the very public arena of the Super Bowl. The nod to the revolutionary Black Panther group, which directly challenged police brutality in the 1960s, remains poignant today as this violent and painful history continues to repeat itself.
Beyoncé’s performance at Super Bowl 50 was a cogent promotion of black culture, one that required the prominent exposure of such an event. It is a reminder to her fanbase that she has remained true to her roots and invokes the power of black solidarity. As Janell Hobson asserts in Ms. Magazine, “In a world that continues to decry women’s power or black power, being able to boldly claim “I slay” is a radical form of resistance.”