Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ video: Controversy swirls around footage
Beyonce reigned over the weekend, dropping an epic video Saturday for the new song “Formation,” ahead of a planned appearance at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Controversy over the video put a dent in Queen Bey’s crown, however, after a pair of documentary filmmakers complained footage from their film was used without their input.
The spat between the filmmakers and video’s director, Melina Matsoukas, was quickly cleared up but underscores how borrowing and inspiration can blow up in an artist’s face.
Director Abteen Bagheri and producer Chris Black released the short doc “That B.E.A.T.” (contains explicit language) about New Orleans’s bounce music and dance scene in 2012. Scenes from the film were used in the “Formation” video, a dreamy ode to Beyonce’s roots in Louisiana and African-American life. Amid frenetic dance numbers and Southern cotillion-style costumes, the video takes on themes such as police-involved violence, Hurricane Katrina and Creole culture.
The video debuted on the streaming service Tidal, which is owned by Beyonce’s husband, Jay-Z.
Soon after its release, Black tweeted his disappointment that the video features scenes from his film, including a dramatic panning shot of a house submerged in water. The producer accused the video makers of not immersing themselves in local culture to shoot footage as his production team did with “That B.E.A.T.”
“Why Melina gotta use clips from our doc?!?” Black asked on Twitter. “Was the budget not big enough to spend a week in New Orleans and actually build with the people.”
The song features bounce’s grand dame Big Freedia, who also makes an appearance in “That B.E.A.T.”
“The funny thing is that our doc is low-key iconic so the audacity to rip and pass it off like we not gonna notice. You outta touch b!” Black wrote.
Bagheri tweeted his displeasure, too: “I’m not mad. It’s the sad reality of the music business. Doesn’t affect my friends’ and my work, but not cool.”
Black and Bagheri acknowledged Beyonce’s team requested to use the footage, which was commissioned by Nokia and Sundance, but said they did not grant permission to use it. Yvette Noel-Schure, a representative for Beyonce, told The New York Times that the footage was legally obtained.
“The documentary footage was used with permission and licensed from the owner of the footage,” Noel-Schure said. “They were given proper compensation. The footage was provided to us by the filmmaker’s production company. The filmmaker is listed in the credits for additional photography direction. We are thankful that they granted us permission.”
Matsoukas tweeted her appreciation at the filmmakers after the tweetstorm: “Must give much love to the beautiful NOLA footage shot and directed by @abteen and @lkeber to make #FORMATION whole.”
That appeared to quell the controversy for the moment, with Bagheri tweeting: “Thanks for the credit @melinamatsoukas and @Beyonce”.
Black got in one more dig: “Lol, your 500k budget wasn’t enough to make your video ‘whole’.”
It’s not the first time an artist, or Beyonce in particular, has come under fire for allegedly taking inspiration from another creative source.
Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker accused Beyonce of lifting her dance routines for the “Countdown” video in 2011.