And Beyoncé does just that over the span of two hours and 17 minutes. Homecoming is both an immersive and engrossing 360-degree experience that places viewers onstage with the indefatigable Queen Bey and her synchronized army of undulating singers, dancers and musicians. Alternating between color, black and white and sometimes grainy footage, the documentary also lets them bear witness to the behind-the-scenes grit, exhaustive rehearsals, unwavering determination and deep-rooted passion it took to bring the artist’s joyful HBCU-themed vision to life.
Brimming with humorous, poignant and insightful moments, Homecoming will definitely have the Bey Hive buzzing. Here are five memorable takeaways:
The inspiration behind Bey-Chella. As Beyoncé explains, she had wanted to attend a black college or university as her dad Matthew Knowles graduated from Fisk University in Nashville. “I dreamed of going to TSU [Texas Southern University in her hometown Houston].” However, as her singing career took off, she relates that Destiny’s Child instead “became college.” Further into the film, she was determined to erase preconceptions. “I felt like people wanted me to stay in my little box. I could have worn my flower crown, but it was more important to bring our culture to Coachella.”
The film’s various segments are introduced by empowering quotes from prominent black historical figures, some of whom are HBCU graduates. For instance, Homecoming opens with a quote from Howard University 1953 grad and acclaimed author Toni Morrison, “If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.” Other quotables include poet/activist Maya Angelou (also featured in the trailer clip released April 8), children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman (“You can’t be what you can’t see”) and Reginald Lewis, the first African American to build a billion-dollar company (“Keep going no matter what”). The film, which also features visual shout-outs to various HBCUs like Florida A&M and Hampton University, closes with the message that HBCUs “must be celebrated and protected.”
Fulfilling the vision. Credited with writing, producing and directing the documentary, Beyoncé was the point person in every step of the production process for her two-weekend Coachella stand (“Every tiny detail had an intention”). The preparation included a four-month period of rehearsing with music director Derek Dixie and the band before bringing in the dancers. “That’s the heart of the show,” says Beyoncé in a voiceover. “I wanted it to show what I felt when I attended battles of the bands when I was growing up.”
Three soundstages were pressed into service: one for the band, one for the dancers and one for the creative staff. Beyoncé would go from one soundstage to the next (“We were all working to our limit”). Viewers are treated to clips of the multi-tasker collaborating with Dixie, rehearsing with the dancers that were each personally selected, working out kinks in the production and reviewing costume and color designs. At one point, Beyoncé is shown giving everyone a tough pep talk. “We’re halfway there, but we have to make progress faster.” The goal throughout the process for the singer was “how do we become united but have different characters that stand out. I was very adamant that we were all well-rehearsed and knew the show front to back—but also did things unconventional.”
Queen B lets down her guard. Originally scheduled to headline Coachella in 2017, Beyoncé had to cancel when she unexpectedly became pregnant with twins Sir and Rumi. While in control of her 2018 concert vision, Beyoncé lets fans look behind the curtain at what it really took for her to bounce back following her difficult pregnancy. She was 218 pounds when she gave birth and had to have an emergency C-section. Of her first rehearsal post-pregnancy rehearsal, Beyoncé says, “There were days when I felt like my endurance and physicality would never be the same.” One telling segment counts down the various days to the landmark concert while tracking the singer’s determination to get back in shape. At 115 days before it was “I had to rebuild my body.” At 65 days, she was limiting herself to no bread, carbs, sugar, dairy, meat, fish or alcohol. “And I’m hungry,” she shouts. Then at 38 days, an excited Beyoncé Facetimes husband Jay-Z to show him that she now fits into her costume. “I just had to share,” she says with a big smile.
Family the biggest priority. Describing herself as a “new woman in a new chapter in my life,” Beyoncé credits family as her “sanctuary and strength.” And Homecoming provides ample glimpses of her interacting with family, close friends and her Coachella team during rehearsals, onstage and offstage. Fans fiending for more Sir and Rumi sightings will be pleased as various family shots show the twins with mom and dad Jay-Z, plus mom Tina Lawson, sister Solange and her Destiny’s Child sisters Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. And while B’s mini-me Blue Ivy steals the show when she leads her mom’s dancers in practice, the tiny dancer also reveals her own singing talent during an a cappella version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the black national anthem. “You sound so pretty,” Beyoncé tells her. “I want to do that again,” declares Blue. “It feels good.”
Amazing fan connection. It’s one thing to hear or read about Beyoncé’s Bey Hive, the singer’s self-described “loyal and incredible ride or die” fan base. It’s another to see them in action. Several of Homecoming’s most humorous moments are derived from the audience’s reactions to their queen. One black male fan, wearing a crimson T-shirt emblazoned with “I have hot sauce in my bag,” literally goes to pieces when she tosses him the black towel ("I see you") she’d just used to wipe her face. A burly white guy in the audience is shown belting out “Say My Name.” They come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages and genders, and know every word to every song. Homecoming ends with Beyoncé being led offstage by a crew member and joining Jay-Z to go home. But before doing so, she directs a message to all her “brothers and sisters around the world. May this spark a vision in people to show them [they can] achieve something. If my country ass can do it, they can do it.”