Michael Arceneaux
September 23, 2019 2:10 pm
Kevin Mazur, Getty Images

Author Michael Arceneaux talks the 2019 Emmys, the history of Beyoncé snubs by major award shows, and the pattern of Black women artists not being recognized by institutions until the later years of their career.

As a student loan debtor living in Trump’s America, I’m not one for gambling, though if I had to make a bet about one aspect of Beyoncé’s career—specifically how the various aspects will be awarded—I imagine it will mirror the experiences she’s had simply trying to get a good wax figure.

Over in the land of Brexit, Madame Tussauds London recently unveiled a wax figure of America’s greatest living noble, Beyoncé, that actually looks like her—quite a feat considering the years and years of other figures released that look nothing like Houston’s greatest. If you recall, there’s one figure that’s supposedly King Bey but looks more like a melted Jennifer Lopez circa “Ain’t It Funny (Remix)” video release. In another, “Beyoncé” looks like Tamar Braxton after she had a really bad chemical peel a la Samantha Jones on Sex and the City. Not to be outdone, there’s one in which I guess you could say it was Beyoncé if Beyoncé were a white woman from some swamp area in the whiter parts of Louisiana.

I don’t know what changed. Perhaps staffers grew too tired of living in fear of The BeyHive and were determined to finally get it right. Maybe members of Beyoncé’s company, Parkwood Entertainment, stepped in to make sure that my lord and gyrator would be depicted in the way anyone much less the Beyoncé deserves. Regardless, a right has been wronged—but the underlying issue cannot be understated.

Beyoncé is one of the most famous people to ever walk the Earth. That is independent of gender and race. This is Beyoncé, whose visibility is so pronounced that you have to literally be living in obscurity to not only not know her name, but what she looks like. And yet, so many have failed to capture her—not so much because it’s difficult to, but because no one cared enough to really see her.

Sure, people make mistakes, and yes, mistakes happen to all types of people. But as a Black person, I can’t help but feel that Beyoncé’s race and gender (and how society collectively reacts to both) factors into these past colossal failures. And if some white people can’t even recognize what we look like, how challenged are they to recognize our cultural contributions? Before Beyoncé fans found some much needed reassurance through this wax figure, many were stomping around social media last week with rightful irritation over the Emmy snub of her groundbreaking concert special, Homecoming.

The Netflix film was nominated for outstanding variety special (pre-recorded), directing, writing, music direction, production design, and costumes. Beyoncé was due to share the win in any of those categories (sans the last two) given her role as not simply performer and star, but co-director, writer, co-musical director, and producer.

However, that was not to be: RuPaul’s Drag Race won for costumes; Springsteen on Broadway won for directing; production design went to the television production of Rent: Live; FX’s Fosse/Verdon won for music direction, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette won for writing. As for the biggest award, outstanding variety special, that went to Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool. 

I can understand one or two of these. And my intention is not to denigrate the works of others, but in some categories, her losses scream and shout, “REALLY?”

Variety called Homecoming a “a euphoria experience… What’s documented here is surely the first concert in history you could imagine Cecil B. DeMille and W.E.B. Du Bois being equally proud of. … For some of us who were actually there at Coachella, rewatching it on film a year later, ‘high water mark in 21st century entertainment’ actually almost feels like it’s underselling it, just a tad.”

In fact, Beyoncé notched rave reviews in every corner of the media.

Kevin Winter, Getty Images for Coachella

I enjoy Carpool Karaoke, but that was the best pre-recorded variety special of the year? That is what is so outstanding? Beyoncé spent more than 115 days working on the historic Coachella performance, and its formation centered the documentary, alone. I’m inclined to believe it wasn’t so much what Beyoncé did or did not do as much as it was that she can’t help being a Black woman making contemporary music that doesn’t appeal to a majorly older white voting base. That base is presumably more favorable to acts and themes catered to their taste. No shade to Bruce Springteen and Paul McCartney; both have genre appropriate bops, but you best believe being white and male helped.

Making matters worse is that this isn’t the first time Beyoncé has been snubbed. She was nominated in 2016 for another groundbreaking project, the visual album Lemonade. That went unrewarded, as did her 2013 Super Bowl Halftime Show, which didn’t win in the best short form entertainment category.

But, as frustrating as it is to see one of the greatest entertainers in history going 0 for 8 at the Emmys despite culture-defining works, it is not atypical. After all, Black women certainly aren’t acknowledged by the Recording Academy either—certainly not in major categories, more often than not. This is the Beck fiasco all over again.

Even so, Beyoncé has a long awards season ahead of her. It is expected that “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote for The Lion King, will be submitted for Oscar consideration. Likewise, it’s likely that The Gift, her companion album to The Lion King, and the soundtrack to Homecoming will be in contention at the next Grammy Awards in 2020.

Still, no win in that category will absolve these wrongs against Beyoncé and what informs them: an utter disregard for excellence from Black creators and entertainers—especially if they also happen to be a woman. The same is true of what’s probably going to actually happen: decades after Beyoncé’s impressively lengthy career and growing legacy, these same tired awards shows will only then want to acknowledge her excellence by way of some honor they give to icons now reveling in past achievements.

They do this to Black women all the time. See Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, or Diana Ross. As another unappreciated Black female icon might say, it’s not right, but it’s okay. Or, you can be like members of Parkwood and wave your middle finger at the Academy:

Both are fine options, but I lean towards the latter.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the newly released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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