When Beyoncé Tells Them We Are Rising, The World Listens

by: Stanley Nelson 

Toni Morrison famously said that she wrote her first novel because she wanted to read it. For many artists, we create the world we want to see through our work. This drive may come from a personal place, but the films, books, songs and visual pieces we produce often shape how others see themselves and the world around them. It’s a ripple effect that can shift how an entire community understands itself. That is the power of artistic expression — and the power of self-representation.

I thought about this on Sunday morning when I saw clips from Beyoncé’s latest achievement, headlining the Coachella Music Festival. She is a master of imagery, using the most powerful symbols from the African American experience to reflect our history and our strength back at us.

It’s no wonder that she has chosen to honor the Black Panther Party and HBCUs. Without a single word she communicated her deep love and respect for an oft-maligned social movement and set of education institutions, and single-handedly introduced them into the public consciousness.

I remember exactly where I was two years ago when Beyoncé shocked the nation with her Panther-inspired performance at the 2016 Super Bowl. In fact, I had just left the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem after a sold-out screening of my documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Myself, the crew, our staff and the Panthers in the film were floored to see her bold performance — even more so because we were only nine days away from the national television premiere of our film on PBS. To call it good timing is an understatement.

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Angela McCrae