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‘There is power in pop culture’: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie applauds Beyonce for quitting her comfort zone with ‘Formation’

Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie chatted to Le Monde journalist Sylvie Kauffmann in Paris, France yesterday, as part of the Le Monde Afrique Conference on the topic Women: The Future of Africa.

Kauffmann asked Adichie for her opinion on Beyoncé’s latest single “Formation”, in which the singer embraces and celebrates her blackness in what is seen as a major career departure. The music video for the song contains references to Hurricane Katrina, the Black Panthers and police brutality, and as an overt political statement it has been the cause of both celebration and controversy.

Beyoncé famously sampled Adichie’s TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” in her song “Flawless” in 2013, leading to a Grammy nomination for the author. The talk has since been released as a book, and famously is to be handed out to every 16-year-old in Sweden.

nullAdichie says she holds Beyoncé in high esteem for deciding to use her popularity to take a stand against racism and racial violence, and cannot understand why people would be uneasy with the song’s message.

“There is something about American mainstream cultural production that says you cannot be too black,” Adichie says. “I think Beyoncé’s success until now, in many ways, has been based on the idea that she’s vanilla – I mean the flavour that appeals to the largest number of people. And to do that in the American mainstream means that you have to be racially ambiguous. You can’t really be too black.

“I think now that Beyoncé has decided to take a position, it’s made many people uncomfortable. And it’s a discomfort that I don’t understand because I find myself thinking, ‘How can anybody not be outraged by what’s going on in the US?’ It’s not that what’s going on is new, it’s that what’s going on is now being talked about. The black men who are being killed, that’s been going on for a long time.”

Adichie says she is “not very cool with music” – “I’m actually quite old-fashioned and boring” – but adds that she “very much admires” what Beyoncé did with “Formation” because in taking a position she has asserted that “it matters enough”.

“There is power in pop culture,” Adichie says. “Beyoncé has stepped out of her comfort zone – and it was easy to be there; it’s easy to be racially ambiguous, if you’re black. It’s more difficult to take a position. And it comes at a risk, because there are consequences.”

Ticket sales for the Formation tour have already surpassed $100 million, even as police threaten to boycott her upcoming concert in Miami, because of the song’s “antipolice message” and “promotion” of the Black Panthers.

Christelle Murhula recorded the conversation on Periscope – watch it here

Related stories:

Images courtesy of ABC and World Bank on Twitter

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