Homecoming is a title with plenty of depth. The name of Beyoncé’s headline act at 2018 Coachella – in fact, the first black woman ever to play the prime slot – Homecoming nods to American high schools, but also to a more profound reframing of the African American story (if such a thing exists in the singular). The home to arrive at, in this interpretation, is neither America nor Africa – rather, the dizzying heights of Being Taken Seriously. For a demographic whose ancestors were ripped from homes in a continent their descendants might never visit, who live now in a land where they are still the victims of systemic prejudice and violence, the notion is a powerful one. Home? Home is made of stories and heroes, and of history: for a people who have had theirs robbed, or been robbed from theirs, Beyoncé’s 2-hour documentary and the Coachella performance itself might salve one aspect of that trauma: representation.
The 2018 performances (there are two), and the footage of them in the documentary, saw Beyoncé on stage with as much black brilliance as she could fit there. 64 credited musicians, easily as many dancers and a bevvy of guest appearances (Michelle and Kelly for a Destiny’s Child number, sister Solange, husband Jay Z) see the production full to bursting with black bodies; black music; black talent. The feeling, both watching the performance and listening to Beyoncé talk about her creative decisions in the film’s voiceover, is that she has assumed a kind of ambassadorial mantle. Rather than resenting the pressure on her to be anything so dull as a role model, she has concertedly leant into her influence with an agenda extending far beyond making pop music. As well as black performers on stage, the show and documentary are both peppered with past work of black activists and intellectuals; Beyoncé is asserting a canon, not a festival line up.