A look at how Black pop culture moments / trends are created over time through interconnected relationships
Upon the release of Kill Jay-Z (music video dir. Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz, 2017), the Knowles-Carters set a visual trend of Black boys on the run.
In Kill Jay-Z, a young Shawn Carter (played by an uncredited actor) runs to and from a past defined, in part, by misogyny and toxic masculinity. In the 4:44 album (2017) teased by this visual release, Jay-Z anguished over his lifelong disregard of women and girls — extending apologies to them.
A forerunner in similar depictions of Black men and boys’ ego-deaths is Terence Nance, the filmmaker whose debut feature — An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012) — was executive-produced by Jay-Z himself. Bearing thematic resemblance to 4:44, Her Beauty remedies Nance’s flat imaginings of women he’s desired.
Nance is one of my favorite filmmakers not only because of his technical proficiencies, but because of his delicate handling of Black feminine interiority. His awareness of how manhood could direct his gaze hasn’t kept him from portraying Black women and girls affectionately. This sensitivity likely supported his work with Solange Knowles, a repeat collaborator who shares his sensibilities.
In Nance’s 2012 films 4 peace short (co-directed by Hank Willis Thomas), two Black women join hands during a forest ritual. Inexplicably, their hands are haloed by cyberlight. A similar moment occurs in Solange’s When I Get Home (visual album, 2019) — which Nance co-directed. During the album’s ‘Almeda’ segment, two Black women tickle each other’s hands, which also radiate cyberlight. Before this 2019 collaboration, Solange starred in ‘Onyx’ — a segment of Nance’s Random Acts of Flyness (Season 1 finale, 2018) that anticipates the Black cool of When I Get Home.
In addition to his symbiosis with Solange, Nance’s work is in conversation with another Knowles sister: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. As I watched Nance’s short film Inside Your Skin Again (2019), I noticed thematic parallels between its sequences and Beyoncé’s Black Is King visual album (2020). Both films show Black boys who must journey through formative trials before becoming men. Uncoincidentally, Nance co-directed a short film called Native Sun (2011) with Blitz Bazawule, one of the co-directors of Black Is King. Much like Black is King’s Simba (Folajomi Akimurele), Native Sun’s Mumin (Edward Dankwa) pilgrimages to a dangerous land in order to find his throne.
The artistic symmetries between Terence Nance and the Knowles-Carter family exemplify how few accidents there are in Black iconography. Black culture, whether popular or underground, is promulgated by webs of influence. Black culture is an ecosystem that is both worldly and otherworldly.
MUSIC VIDEO: ‘Kill Jay-Z’ (dir. Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz, 2017)
‘‘Give It Up For My Sister’: Beyonce, Solange, and The History of Sibling Acts in Pop’ by Danielle Jackson
‘Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’: Let’s Discuss’ by Jason Farago, Vanessa Friedman, Gia Kourlas, Wesley Morris, Jon Pareles and Salamishah Tillet
‘Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’ and the Pitfalls of African Consciousness’ by Russell Rickford
VIDEO CLIP: ‘Random Acts of Flyness: Nuncaland’ (dir. Terence Nance et. al., 2018)
VIDEO CLIP: ‘Onyx,’ from Random Acts of Flyness (dir. Terence Nance et. al., 2018)
VISUAL ALBUM: ‘When I Get Home’ (2019, dir. Solange Knowles et. al.)