Beyoncé’s documercial, “Beyonce: Life Is But a Dream,” attracted 1.8 million viewers to HBO for its Saturday 9 p.m. premiere, Nielsen said Tuesday. Beyoncé served as the film’s star, executive producer, narrator, co-writer and co-director. She’s even in the credits for ‘additional camera’ because much of the film was shot using the webcam on her laptop.

All that is to say: Beyoncé had total control of what we saw in the film. There were a few moments when she got personal, she talked about breaking up her business relationship with her father and what it took for her to become a woman who can demand things from the people she works with. She also spoke about a miscarriage.

But there was one topic she never discussed.

Jody Rosen, over at The New Yorker’s “Culture Desk” asks why “Beyonce: Life Is But a Dream” ignored race.

Still, there’s no question that Beyoncé is a terrible judge of what is interesting about Beyoncé. Consider one topic that never comes up in “Life Is But a Dream”: race. You could make the case that Beyoncé has reached an unprecedented position in American life. She is a black woman who has claimed the mantles of America’s Sweetheart, National Bombshell, and Entertainer-in-Chief. (According to Nielsen, an audience of 1.8 million watched Saturday’s broadcast of “Life Is But a Dream,” a record for an HBO documentary, and three times the average rating for the network’s marquee show, Lena Dunham’s “Girls.”) Beyoncé is one half of an African-American royal couple rivaled only by the duo in the White House. She is by far the “blackest”—musically and aesthetically—of all the post-Madonna pop divas; she represents African-American women’s anger and power like no one in popular culture since Aretha Franklin. Of course, the privilege to ignore race altogether is a sign of Beyoncé’s queenly status, and in “Life Is But a Dream” she avails herself of it. Instead, we get bromides: “We’re all going through these problems,” she says. “We all have the same insecurities.”

The hot air never stops blowing in “Life Is But a Dream.” There’s a funny thing about Beyoncé, though: the dreck that she serves up when seated on the interviewee’s couch, clutching a throw pillow, is transfigured, when she strides the stage, into art. In the film, she talks endlessly, excruciatingly, about money and power and ambition and self-reliance and womanhood and her love for her husband and child and, um, “the journey of my life.” It is a torrent of banalities. But those are the themes of Beyoncé’s music—the very topics that she compresses into the three minutes and thirty-three seconds of “Countdown,” a recording that will be confounding and electrifying musicologists, feminists, African-American studies scholars, and, most importantly, dance-floor revelers long after the last “Life Is But a Dream” DVD has been shot into space, destined for a Martian landfill. Listen to Beyoncé’s songs; watch her cyclonic performances. Everything else is like those cameras: additional, and superfluous.

“Beyoncé: Life Is But A Dream” resulted in the the biggest audience for an HBO documentary in a decade. Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” that looked at the devastation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is the only documentary to come close with 1.7 million viewers.

Read this online at http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/02/why_didnt_race_come_up_in_beyonces_hbo_documentary_new_yorker_review_gets_critical.html


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