Beyond Say: Water, Spirituality, and the Womanist Autoethnography in Beyonce’s Lemonade

Aquila Campbell


The imagery and story-telling in Beyoncé’s Lemonade builds upon a narrative of Black womanhood that is uniquely southern. Through scenes exploring plantations, rural areas, swamps, antebellum porches, Beyoncé participates in a framework of story-telling that has been pioneered by southern Black women such as Alice Walker’s Womanism and Robin M. Boylorn’s autoethnographic work in Sweetwater. When both concepts are put into conversation with one another, a womanist autoethnography emerges, which is a focus that nurtures the space of Black female life as she navigates family, relationships, Self, the spiritual, struggle, and freedom. Using the womanist framework by Alice Walker and the ethnographic framework of Robin M. Boylorn’s Sweetwater, the significance of Beyoncé’s Lemonade in the tradition of southern Black women’s story-telling can be explored within a semiotic relationship between the two approaches, rendering a distinctive vision into Black womanhood. For example, the presence of Water is woven throughout the journey that Beyoncé takes the viewer on. Water reflects the womanist autoethnography by acting as a medium through which Beyoncé expresses spirituality, the tides of her emotions, the act of cleansing, her connection to the African Diaspora, the pain of loss, questioning, the reconciliation and revelation she gains within herself and between her loved ones as a southern Black woman. How water maps out the emotional and spiritual journey in the film humanizes Beyoncé even as she enjoys the status of a cultural icon and allows her story to be accessible, because she, like her fans and her audience, expresses resilience and vulnerability. Walker’s womanist insight into Black families, healing, spirituality, and interconnectivity between Black women in conjunction with Boylorn’s autoethnographic process of speaking oneself into being can unravel themes of how water undergirds powerful scenes in the film and acts as a guide through Beyoncé’s experience of southern Black womanhood.


Autoethnography; Womanism; Blackness; Lemonade; Beyonce; Film; Black culture; Black people; Black women

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