In the video, Schumer dances, twerks and lip-syncs to the lead single from Beyoncé’s acclaimed album “Lemonade,” alongside other famous women including Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack and Wanda Sykes. The video’s rotating cast of extras are mostly women of color.
According to CNN, Schumer had Beyoncé’s permission to do the parody, which makes sense considering it was first released on Tidal, the music service owned by the singer’s husband. That didn’t stop critics from slamming the video as cultural appropriation and citing it as the latest in a string of racially insensitive humor from the comedian.
But the controversy represents an issue much larger than Schumer. Women of color, particularly black women, continue to feel excluded from mainstream feminism. Schumer’s response to the criticism, posted to her Instagram account Monday, didn’t do much to move the conversation forward. It effectively silenced it.
“You know you that b—- when you cause all this conversation,” Schumer wrote, borrowing a line from “Formation.” She added: “We had so much fun making this tribute. All love and women inspiring each other.”
Schumer’s response makes no attempt to understand why anyone would be upset by her video. If a sizable portion of black women, including prominent feminists, say that the video offends them, does it truly represent “all love and women inspiring each other”? The women of color in the parody are used largely as accessories. One particularly problematic sequence finds Schumer and a friend flanking a black woman in a mall play area.
Amy Schumer uses the facets of Black womanhood that serve her best while casting Black women as extras and props in centering her own body— FJ THEE Feminist (@FeministaJones) October 25, 2016
Another scene features Schumer and her stunt double Meredith Richardson wearing “Texas Bama” shirts. USA Today points out that “Bama” is Richardson’s nickname, but it’s also a clear reference to this pointed (and somewhat controversial) line from “Formation”: “My daddy Alabama/Mama Louisiana/You mix that negro with that Creole/Make a Texas Bama.”
Like Beyoncé’s stunning visual album “Lemonade,” the song and its video, which debuted in February, are near-sacred territory. “Formation” was hailed as a celebration of all things black — the song called for solidarity among black women — and was political in a way we hadn’t yet seen from the superstar, evoking the Black Lives Matter movement and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (Beyoncé faced some criticism for the video’s approach to these elements).
But it’s hard to figure out the point — any point — of Schumer’s video. Even as she addressed the controversy, Schumer described the video as a “tribute.” Is it even comedy? (It’s not particularly funny.) As noted by Refinery29 and others, the parody was filmed in Hawaii while Schumer and Hawn were filming a mother-daughter action comedy that also stars Cusack and Sykes. So, in a way, it’s promotion for a film.
Amy Schumer is the epitome of white feminism. She claims she fights for all women. But when she's in the wrong, she just "brushes it off" NO— It's an Alaïa! (@slaykowiak) October 25, 2016
“I enjoy playing the girl who [from] time to time says the dumbest thing possible and playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which is what makes it so fun for comics,” Schumer wrote last year after being called out for questionable material in past stand-up routines. “You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’ but you are wrong. It is a joke and it is funny.”
“Inside Amy Schumer,” the comedian’s Comedy Central show, has included a few skits that channel that ethos successfully; “Urban Fitters,” which featured Amy as a white shopper awkwardly trying to avoid describing the sales rep who helped her as black, is a good example. But it’s hard to imagine that “playing with race” or amping up some naive white girl shtick is what Schumer was attempting to do with her “Formation” video.
And if she was, her response, as well as other recent controversies, suggest that she lacks the awareness needed to mine meaningful humor from such a hot-button topic. Just last month, Mic reported that Schumer posted (and promptly deleted) a tweet implying that men of color are more likely to harass women on the street. She was also embroiled in the negative response to Lena Dunham’s tone-deaf comments about Odell Beckham Jr., which the “Girls” creator gave in a Lenny Letter interview with Schumer.
When it comes to the “Formation” video, those pointing to Beyoncé’s alleged approval or the appearance of Sykes, who is black, as proof that it couldn’t be problematic are missing the point. If Schumer can’t see that the backlash extends far beyond her, she’s missing it, too.
This post has been updated.