In “Formation” Tribute, Amy Schumer Parodies White Feminism

In wake of recent criticism of her tribute to Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, Amy Schumer released a statement explaining that she “did not mean to detract any of the meaning from [Beyoncé’s] video. I am of course horrified and sickened by the events that are addressed throughout that video and didn’t see this as minimizing that and still don’t.”

Some people found these statements bewildering. After all, how could she fail to minimize Black feminism, police brutality, environmental racism, and racism in mainstream media if she never mentions them in her video or essay? However, as we know from an earlier episode, Schumer is not racist. The only remaining explanation is what @FeministaJones and others have suggested: Amy Schumer has spent years parodying white feminism.

Schumer’s parody begins in the first scene of “Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer Get in Formation,” in which Hawn and Schumer dance awkwardly to the song’s first lines. To properly acknowledge the distance of white feminists from the song’s theme about the fashion of the oppressed, Hawn and Schumer decided to wear grimy t-shirts. The smudges on their clothing and skin symbolized the cosmetic changes that feminism without intersectionality can accomplish. Throughout the video, Hawn and Schumer stayed dedicated to this costume, to honor their brothers of color whose casual wear, like hooded sweatshirts, takes away their right to life.

To honor the deaths from Hurricane Katrina that Beyoncé references in “Formation,” Schumer traced this tragedy to its source with the metaphor of Hawn lounging on a Hummer. Notorious for energy inefficiency, the Hummer represents the reliance of white societies on unsustainable patterns of consumption. Placing Hawn atop the Hummer, Schumer boldly denounced white people’s indifference to effects, like Katrina, of the climate change they helped create.

As indicated by the bulletproof vests that actresses sport later in the video, Schumer was satirizing white people’s indifference to their role in police brutality as well. Fully aware of the reliance of the U.S. economy on the defense industry, Schumer used the Hummer to critique the recycling of military technology in a domestic setting. As a reference to the mine-resistant vehicles that met protesters in Ferguson and to the companies that profit from them, Schumer’s Hummer is the most fitting tribute to Beyoncé’s call to “Stop shooting us.”

The final, most personal touch to Schumer’s satire was the use of animal imagery during the “If he f**ks me good, I’ll take his a** to Red Lobster” lyrics. Knowing the importance of voices like hers in eliminating stereotypes, Schumer offered a belated critique of her friend, Lena Dunham, and the way representing Black men as hypersexual, criminal, or animalistic has led to many early deaths.

Schumer thus found the most appropriate way to contribute as a white woman to Beyoncé’s conversation, by reminding white women that we are responsible for the tragedies at New Orleans and Ferguson. Just in time for Halloween, Schumer affirmed that Black culture is not something white women can just don for a video to feel edgy — especially not until white women stop contributing to the oppression that culture works so hard to subvert. I applaud Schumer’s bravery and encourage us all to learn from her example.