Hollywood movies

REVIEW: Beyonce’s ‘Renaissance: A Film’ is a celebration of queer joy 

Albert Pagunsan

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REVIEW: Beyonce’s ‘Renaissance: A Film’ is a celebration of queer joy 
Beyoncé's concert evolved into a safe space for queers to express themselves through the power of art and community

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Filipino BeyHives finally got a piece of the much-coveted Renaissance visuals after Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé officially launched in the Philippines last December 1, 2023. 

The highly-awaited film, which was first teased in November, features segments from the much-awaited Renaissance concert tour, pieces of commentary on her creative process, and slices of her personal life that inspired the album, the concert, and the film. 

Fans all over the world decorated movie theaters in chrome, silver, and black, which were part of the concert’s color palette, and danced to tunes from the recent album and Beyoncé’s classics. But what made the Renaissance film a captivating visual story of queer joy? My personal Beyoncé experience was more than just about enjoying a film – it was immersing myself in the community that inspired her latest masterpiece.

Beyoncé behind the scenes

While fans all over the world did not have the opportunity to enjoy the live Beyoncé experience, Filipinos like myself were blessed with a film that took us on a journey to and beyond the concert. The film becomes a distinct medium from the album and the concert, allowing Beyoncé to dive deep into her personal story to help fans understand her places of comfort, joy, frustration, and despair.

Screenshot from trailer

It was made known to fans during the album release that Renaissance was a dedication, a memoir, and a love letter to her Uncle Johnny. The film expounds on Beyoncé’s intimate relationship with her uncle by talking about the joy that Johnny brought to her home and her family through music, fashion, and dance. 

This personal rumination reveals the most intimate and emotional side of Beyoncé. To queers like myself, it becomes clear why Renaissance has become one of her grandest moments of self expression – investing and showcasing couture pieces, using a wide stage that only few stadiums could accommodate, and working with performers from the queer ballroom community. Ultimately, the album is an homage both to her uncle and the queer joy that he brought to her life.

Screenshot from website
Screenshot from trailer

Beyoncé also opens a conversation with the audience about the impact of stardom on her children, specifically Blue Ivy. The film shared behind-the-scenes footage of Blue Ivy’s participation in the creation of the visuals of the concert, and the evolution she went through as a performer in the concert. Beyoncé also puts the spotlight on the performers and production staff on the tour who are also mothers.

Our queer ally

At the heart of the queer joy celebration is Beyoncé’s homage to the ballroom community. The ballroom community is an underground Latinx and African-American queer community famed for its vogue performances, best dressed competitions, and runway battles, to name a few. The community was started by drag queen and trans woman legendary mother and founder Crystal Labeija as a response to racial discrimination in pageants. 

Screenshot from website

It has been the basis of mainstream works such as Madonna’s song “Vogue” (1990), FX’s Pose (2018-2021) and HBO’s Legendary (2020-2022). The community hosts various events for queers to walk and compete in such as Old Way Vogue, Vogue Femme, Face, Runway, Body, Sex Siren, and Realness, some of which Beyoncé featured in the Ballroom interlude in her concert. 

Most importantly, the community continues to be a place of resistance for many queers fighting for the visibility of their trans siblings, HIV/AIDS awareness, acceptance in mainstream society, and legal recognition, among other issues.

She introduces people from the community that made the album, concert, and film possible, and gives them space to share their stories of discrimination and empowerment. As an artist, she emerges as a medium for people to tell their stories from places of pain to places of radical joy and personal liberation. As a storyteller, Beyoncé is able to weave their experiences with that of Uncle Johnny’s, during the time when LGBTQ+ rights had yet to gain public acceptance.

During the premiere weekend, the Philippine Ballroom Community celebrated with a ball hosted by Red Whistle and the House of Revlon – the Renaissance Ball, which commemorated World AIDS Day and raised the alarm bells on HIV/AIDS. The Renaissance film was released globally during the same day that World AIDS Day was celebrated – a clear homage to Uncle Johnny who lived and passed away from complications from AIDS.

RENAISSANCE BALL. The community remains to be a place of resistance against injustices. Edgar Bagasol

SAFE SPACE. During the premiere weekend, the Philippine Ballroom Community celebrated with a ball attended by Filipino Beyhives and advocates. Edgar Bagasol

Beyoncé’s concert evolved into a safe space for queers to express themselves through the power of art and community. For ballroom members such as myself, it is valuable that we feel and see the essence of the community, the craft, and the culture in cultural products and creative expressions that borrow facets from ballroom.

But it is not only through stories that Beyoncé celebrates the queer community. She uses clips of her fans holding the progressive LGBTQ+ flag and protest signs, and wearing opulent and overt expressions of queerness to highlight the beauty of queer joy. Personally, I felt connected to each person in the clips not only because of their queerness but Beyoncé’s technical genius of combining sound and imagery to create invisible strings that can bind her concert-goers and other fans. 

Photo from website

Finally, Beyoncé relays her personal sojourn from being a pop star to being a legend, referencing The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli during her performance of “Plastic Off the Sofa.” By wearing a custom-fit Loewe outfit and lying down in a giant clam shell, it seemed like she was telling her fans that she was going through another process of change. Throughout the film, I saw Beyoncé totally different from the versions of herself in the past.

To fans and ballroom community members like myself, the Renaissance film is not simply a translation of what happened during the concert. Rather it is a cultural piece that exposes the power of queer communities to initiate processes of renewal, discovery, and expression. Through glamor, ballroom culture, vogue, and house music, I saw a version of Beyoncé owning her craft and herself, while giving the widest space to the most marginalized people. – Rappler.com

Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé is now available nationwide in major theaters: SM Cinema, Robinsons Movieworld, Fishermall Cinema, Ayala Malls Cinema, and Megaworld Cinema.

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