“You can’t be what you can’t see.” This quote by Marian Wright Edelman is one of several that serve as title cards between sections of Beyoncé’s landmark concert documentary Homecoming. Even the newest fans will quickly realize that there’s so much Beyoncé wants us to see, and over the course of eight months of rehearsals and two historic weekends at Coachella 2018, she shows us with a clear-eyed and spectacular vision. Throughout her epic performance, which features hundreds of moving pieces and is themed around Historically Black Colleges and Universities, we’re shown artistic representations of motherhood, Southern tradition, Black joy and excellence, family, vulnerability, hard work, and of course, the endless power of the girls who run the world.
“Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” Beyoncé explains in voiceover during one of the behind-the-scenes sections, brief sequences that edit stylistically grainy B-roll into energetic and warm summations of pre-Coachella preparation. And she brought it. As the director-producer-writer-performer herself explains, every stitch and every second of what came to be called “Beychella” was put together with incredible consideration by her and her team. While we picture most auteurs creating in isolation, her tightly controlled production came to life on three soundstages with the aid of hundreds of performers and crew members. If it could, the graciously shot documentary would show each person, but instead, it settles on displaying the skill and resilience of this team early and often.
Homecoming, the American tradition that’s always biggest in Beyoncé’s native Texas, has never been bigger, bolder, or more ambitious than this. Multiple moving cameras bring the meticulously coordinated headlining performance to life and somehow manage to stay invisible to the viewer’s eye. The concert initially debuted through a massive and impressive live stream, and although some of this footage lacks the airing-live energy fans associate with Bey’s headlining night, it’s polished and gleaming, every color and detail ready to dazzle. Brass-and-stomp-heavy arrangements of her best-known songs, several revamped as mashups and tributes to HBCUs, are the awe-inspiringly creative icing on the cake. The production design is unparalleled by any modern concert experience. All in all, it’s an immersive, inspiring experience that borders on overwhelming.
As with her previous documentary, Life is But a Dream, the artist herself emerges as a portrait of humility and self-discipline, someone who demands quality but has no issue centering the movement she’s creating rather than herself. At one point, Beyoncé lists the foods she’s restricting in an attempt to get stage-ready after the birth of her twins, and the dauntingly long list includes almost everything one could eat. Her perfectionism appears to be collaborative and kind, but that intense drive is still there, and she makes it clear via voiceover that she doesn’t take one second of her career for granted. This isn’t an autobiography, like Life is But a Dream, but the sheer scale of her historic, near-perfect concert itself tells us more about Beyoncé than she ever could.
The ‘60s had Woodstock, the ‘80s had Live Aid, and we have Beychella. And now we have a documentary to match.