Filming on Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn’s action comedy Mother/Daughter wrapped in August, and to generate press for the film, Schumer and Hawn released a video last week where they lip-synced to their own interpretation of Beyoncé’s black female empowerment anthem, “Formation.” Actress Wanda Sykes also makes an appearance in the parody, which features Schumer and Hawn dancing in the tropics of Hawaii, where much of their film was shot.
Of course, anyone who’s ever heard “Formation” knows that having two white, affluent actresses twerk to lyrics such as “I like my negro nose and Jackson 5 nostrils” would elicit some deserved anger from fans and critics. However, Schumer’s video highlights a much larger problem within the entertainment industry.
From the stories I’ve read, the tabloid-projected “backlash” towards Schumer and Hawn’s “Formation” satire seems to conveniently brush over the fact that this video was an exclusive release on TIDAL, the streaming service owned by Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z and a service that Beyoncé herself has ownership in. In February, Beyoncé released her video for “Formation” exclusively on TIDAL, a week before performing at the Super Bowl. Bey’s visual album, Lemonade, was also a TIDAL exclusive. When you look at the “Formation” parody with this information, you’d be hard-pressed to say that the Carters didn’t have something to gain from a video featuring one of the most in-demand women in comedy that essentially served as a re-release of Beyoncé’s song. If we are to point fingers at Schumer, we should also be holding everyone involved in this video accountable–including Jay Z and Beyoncé.
Was Schumer and crew’s choice of song misguided? Absolutely. But to say that there was no role played by someone on Beyoncé’s team in approving (or perhaps even conceptualizing) the Schumer video would be foolish. My guess is that TIDAL, in an effort to continue expanding their market and test the idea of TIDAL as a film and television streaming service, made a very poor choice in having Schumer and Hawn cross-market one of their most buzzed-about exclusive music releases as a comedic short. “Formation” has recognizable, recreatable visuals and somewhat falls in line with Schumer’s feminist brand, so I can understand how the song was chosen–but whoever had final approval over that choice seemed to miss the fact that this song also heavily addressed police brutality and what it means to be a black American in 2016.
Amy Schumer’s parody was, at best, tone-deaf, but it serves as a perfect example of why we should be giving voices to more women in entertainment. Just as Beyoncé should not be expected to represent all black women, Amy Schumer should not be expected to represent all forms of feminism. Amy Schumer’s shorts have been excellent for sparking debate and awareness over gun laws and rape culture, but to ask Schumer to encapsulate and address every demographic’s form of feminism in her comedy without being offensive AND be a major commercial success is, in a word, unreasonable. Schumer can speak from her experiences and be sympathetic to others, but she cannot be all things to all people, just as Beyoncé cannot be all things to all people. In fact, “Formation” itself received a flurry of criticism, from claims that Beyoncé stole footage from a Katrina documentary to the idea that Beyoncé’s song serves to capitalize on the Black Lives Matter movement that has become an intrinsic part of our culture.
If you want to see better and more thoughtful work in the entertainment industry, start demanding it. Support local filmmakers, writers, actresses, and comedians. Stop putting the weight of it all on one person who is unable to represent everything and then being furious when that person falls short. When you ask a celebrity to be a sociopolitical savior for human rights as well as a massive international success who is trying to appeal to a broad commercial audience, you will always end up disappointed. It’s not that Schumer and Hawn’s “Formation” parody wasn’t insensitive–it certainly was. But if we want to see accurate, diverse representation in entertainment, we have to look at ourselves. To create real change in the entertainment industry, we must support the projects–and women–that speak to us.
Featured Image: TIDAL