Amy Schumer cannot defend her racist ‘Formation’

Amy Schumer’s recent ‘tribute’ video of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ is yet another demonstration of the actress’ whitewashing of feminism. Her video, in which she reenacts Beyoncé with female co-stars from her upcoming movie, only highlights her lack of knowledge and sensitivity of the issues raised by the original song.

‘Formation’, one of the most powerful tracks on Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, is a song explicitly about black female identity and empowerment, and takes a stand against police brutality. Schumer and her co-stars have made a lip-sync cover of the music video on the various sets of her new film, most notably the formerly colonised island of Hawaii. Released on Jay Z’s music streaming service Tidal, Schumer’s tribute has apparently been endorsed by Beyoncé. But regardless of this endorsement, Schumer’s remake of ‘Formation’ completely undermines the empowering effect of the original music video for  black women. Whether Beyoncé’s work is referencing tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and the countless incidences of unnecessary police brutality to make a genuine political statement or as a publicity technique, Schumer’s video shoehorns white women into black feminist discourse.

Not only is the whole concept of white women remaking a video that is specifically about black female empowerment incredibly uncomfortable, but the actual content of the video makes for a cringe-worthy watch. Essentially a couple of muddy white women prancing around in various Hispanic settings, miming the words to a song about black culture, Schumer’s video comes across as a fundamentally racist parody of the original.

Whilst the video does feature the occasional woman of colour, they tend to be in the background supporting the main two white women in this video or, in Wanda Sykes’ case, are outnumbered by white actresses. The irony of including Hawaiian women purely as extras in a video set in Hawaii, a former European colony, is too strong to be ignored. Furthermore, Schumer and Goldie Hawn wear matching tops that say ‘Texas bama’, clearly a reference to Beyoncé’s original lyric “you mix that negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama”. Whilst Beyoncé has reclaimed the term with pride to celebrate her southern roots, the original meaning of the word was a derogatory term for the black arrivals in Washington DC from the rural south. Schumer and Hawn have taken the message of the video and Beyoncé’s reclamation of this type of discourse and repackaged them for their own entertainment and gain. Schumer’s ‘tribute’ brings nothing new to this conversation, and comes across as white-washing of a black woman’s art.

Entirely understandably, Schumer’s video has received an enormous online backlash from black women. Her immediate reaction to this was an Instagram photo with the caption ‘all love and women inspiring each other’. Schumer had the arrogance to ignore the perfectly valid criticisms of her video, and the women that it upset, and claim her influence as inspiring. A second Instagram emerged after Halloween, with a photo of someone dressed up as her with the caption ‘tribute not parody’. This was a clear backhanded referenced the debate over whether her video is a parody of the original video or a tribute, as she argues. Schumer has also released a decidedly unapologetic essay on her video, claiming it is not a parody, and it was a way to celebrate bringing women together. There is no trace of understanding of the real issues that arose from her video.

Within the context of Schumer’s previous racial slurs, it is hard to forgive the ignorance that her video displays. In the past, she has claimed to be playing the part of a clueless white girl to criticise attitudes. But according to Schumer herself this video is not a parody, it is a tribute, completely nullifying this disguise for her naivety and condemning her video as unaware and insensitive.

Image Credit: A.RICARDO/Jaguar PS

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