Jay-Z has definitely moved beyond the music video. Just like his other recent visuals, “Family Feud” is more like a cinematic narrative short latent with political and social messages, featuring an eye-popping roster that includes a blockbuster director and nearly two dozen stars. And all within eight minutes!
Released Friday, the Ava DuVernay-directed “Family Feud” weaves a futuristic saga beginning in the year 2444 and working backward to 2050 when a group of women — headed up by an adult Blue Ivy Carter — embark upon a major reformation of America when they rewrite the Constitution.
The video also fits in well with the other visualizations from Jay-Z’s “4:44” album. “Legacy,” directed by Jeymes Samuel, lasts 10 minutes, includes analysis of the criminal-justice system and features Ron Perlman, Jesse Williams and Susan Sarandon. “Moonlight,” likewise, features a blockbuster cast with some of the biggest rising stars in comedy, as they reenact scenes line-for-line from a memorable episode of “Friends” in what serves as a meta-commentary on black representation in pop culture and artistic ownership. Jay-Z didn’t even appear in the video, which was directed by “Master of None” co-creator Alan Yang.
And Jay-Z doesn’t show up until more than five minutes into “Family Feud,” after much of the story has already been told. At that point, he walks his real-life daughter through a church, gives her a message and gives confession to his wife/priestess Beyoncé, who sings on the track.
Right now, “Family Feud” is only watchable on Tidal, the streaming service owned by Jay-Z. Here is everything to know about the video — and yes, spoilers ahead for those of you haven’t seen it yet.
Somehow DuVernay and her team managed to jam-pack this eight-minute-long musical short with more than 20 major stars. Some of them include DuVernay’s past collaborators, such as Mindy Kaling and Storm Reid, who star in the upcoming Disney film “A Wrinkle in Time;” Henry G. Sanders, who plays Prosper Denton in DuVernay’s TV series on OWN, “Queen Sugar;” and David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in DuVernay’s breakout “Selma,” and was in her second feature film “Middle of Nowhere” along with Emayatzy Corinealdi and Omari Hardwick, who are also featured.
The rest of the cast includes: Susan Kelechi Watson (“This Is Us”); Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”); Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”); Thandie Newton (“Crash”); Trevante Rhodes (“Moonlight”); America Ferrera (“Superstore”); Brie Larson (“Room”); Rosario Dawson (“The Defenders”); Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”); Constance Wu (“Fresh Off the Boat”); Niecy Nash (“Clawed”); activist Janet Mock; Irene Bedard (“Pocahontas”); and Blue Ivy Carter and Beyoncé (duh).
“Family Feud” begins by displaying this James Baldwin quote, from his book-long essay “The Devil Finds Work”:
The wretched of the earth do not decide to become extinct, they resolve, on the contrary, to multiply: life is their only weapon against life, life is all that they have.
In the 1976 work about film, race and America, Baldwin was addressing “A Tale of Two Cities” when he wrote that line. The paragraph that precedes the quote featured in “Family Feud” reads:
I was haunted, for example, by Alexandre Manette’s document, in “A Tale of Two Cities,” describing the murder of a peasant boy — who dying, speaks: “I say, we were so robbed, and hunted, and were made so poor, that our father told us it was a dreadful thing to bring a child into this world, and that what we should most pray for was that our women might be barren and our miserable race die out!” “I had never before,” observes Dr. Manette, “seen the sense of being oppressed, bursting forth like a fire”.)
Dickens has not seen it all.
DuVernay also shared some images of her visual inspirations, particularly for the Jay-Z confessional scenes.
“Family Feud” begins in 2444, with two members of the same family essentially fighting for power. The implication here is that they are in some sort of monarchy situation. Jordan storms into Newton’s bedroom, upset that she’s the face of the family. Rhodes is in her bed; Jordan complains that she’s an embarrassment and “father” would never behave as she does. The two men start fighting. Rhodes kills Jordan and then kisses Newton, and she kills Rhodes. “It’s not his, it’s not yours. It’s my throne,” she says.
“The first scene focuses on errors,” DuVernay tweeted. “All families hurt each other. Mistakes are made. Expectations unmet. Jealousies fester.”
Next up, we see co-presidents, played by Bedard and Hardwick, confronted formally by Chastain about a murder in Hardwick’s family “that laid the foundation for your ascent” and other actions that represent “violations to the confessional papers,” undermining the platform of peace that led him into office. The people have a right to know, she insists.
As DuVernay explained on Twitter: “I loved the idea of their being Co-Presidents of the United States in the future. And that a Native American woman was one of them. One of the first ideas I shared with [Jay-Z]. He was all in. We had fun dreaming this up. This country will not stay the same.”
The two presidents push back. The two families have worked together for generations. “We are all related,” Bedard says. Hardwick ends up narrating the rest of the film by taking us back in time.
“You want to talk about law? How quickly you forget my family’s legacy,” Hardwick says. “My family has protected the law, striving for justice and dignity for all.” Flashback to 2148, where Oyelowo and Corinealdi are keeping watch and notice “a disturbance in the peace” in an area that’s gone without that “for centuries.”
Another flashback to 2096 as Hardwick says “my family has fought for the law.” We see armed, fearless fighters, including Ferrera. “Fly your family’s flag, okay,” Denton says as he hands a banner to a young Storm Reid. DuVernay explained: “Change sometimes require force. A vision of freedom fighters. A world of warriors for good.”
Then we’re taken to 2050 as Hardwick says, “The worst of us doesn’t define us. Our commitment to these ideals run deep in my blood, nothing can change that.” We see a beautiful room with a table full of diverse women debating (Dawson, Jones, Wu, Nash, Mock and Kaling). Watson presides as an adult Blue Ivy Carter, who is revealed to be Hardwick’s ancestor, “one of the chief architects of the confessional papers and one of America’s founding mothers.”
Watson “and a group of women from all walks of life revised the Constitution over 444 years ago, at a time, mind you, when some thought making America great meant making us afraid of each other” — in a not-so-veiled Trump campaign-slogan reference.
The women debate the second amendment, and Watson chimes in: “Ladies, this is just like the 13th amendment” — which, yes, DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary “13th” is about. “Some people have their liberties and some people don’t. America is a family and the whole family should be free.”
Then, finally, we see Jay-Z in 2018 walking with Blue Ivy in an elaborate empty church. “It’s like I remember my father saying when I was a little girl,” Watson says. “Nobody wins when the family feuds.” The story ends with Hardwick’s voice-over concluding, “I have hope that we can shine again. We just have to remember from which we came. Family first, and always.”
The film’s score then gives way to the actual song, “Family Feud.” Jay-Z raps in the church and in a confessional booth to his wife, referencing infidelity and shortcomings.
“I’ll let the final scene just stay where it is. In the film, with that family,” DuVernay wrote. “Being their brilliant, black, brave, bold selves. May we all fortify our families. Our communities. Our society. In whatever ways we can.”