Sunday’s game between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers was the third most-watched television broadcast in U.S. history, according to numbers released by Nielsen on Monday. The viewership peaked at an average of 115.5 million not during the game itself, but rather during the 30-minute halftime show.
This confirms what many (including The Washington Post’s Chris Richards) have been saying: Beyoncé dominated the Super Bowl.
With a performance of her new single, “Formation,” which touched upon police brutality, the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the singer handily upstaged fellow performers Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Even after the last of her leather-clad dancers left the field, there was no shortage of material to keep viewers talking.
Now, the debate rages on about whether it was appropriate for Beyoncé to inject politics into her performance.
The same elements that have been widely praised for showcasing black empowerment also have attracted ire from the likes of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who on Monday called Beyoncé’s “attack” on police officers “outrageous.”
At issue are, among other things, the “X” formation that dancers created on the field and the Afros and black berets they sported, channeling black activist Malcolm X and the aesthetic of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s and ’70s.
What wasn’t shown on-screen but is now catching fire online is a quieter political display that occurred after the halftime show, when a group of Beyoncé’s dancers was approached by two organizers for the Bay Area chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Activists Ronnisha Johnson and Rheema Emy Calloway knew what they wanted out of their halftime show tickets: a way to spread the story of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old black man who was shot and killed by San Francisco police in December, to a larger audience than they had ever had before.
As Beyoncé’s dancers walked off the field with their fists in the air, Johnson and Calloway ran up to a group of them with a sign that read “Justice 4 Mario Woods.”
“The dancers were really excited to take pictures,” Calloway told Mic. “They didn’t second-guess taking a stand in solidarity with us for Mario Woods and it seemed they had already heard the story, but we didn’t have enough time to react.”
Since then, photos and a video of the act spread across the Internet.
Woods’s mother, Gwen, told the Guardian that she was moved by the photo.
“I was really depressed, and that gave me a jolt,” she said. “To see them with the sign in the stands, it jolted me back into reality. It uplifted me. … I am so thankful to those dancers that they acknowledged this.”
At the start of this month, the Justice Department announced a review of the San Francisco Police Department in the wake of Woods’s death, which was captured on a video that shows Woods being shot by 15 rounds fired by five officers after he walked toward them with a knife in hand. (The review is voluntary and won’t result in a court-monitored legal settlement, the Associated Press reported.)
Woods had a history of mental illness and was suspected to have stabbed someone earlier that day.
The dancers’ gesture was applauded by those who viewed it as a fitting addendum to Beyoncé’s program, while others thought it ignored certain facts of the case.
— Sara Benincasa (@SaraJBenincasa) February 8, 2016
— LATiffani (@LATiffani1) February 9, 2016
Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video features a black boy in a hoodie dancing in front of armed police as well as graffiti that reads “Stop shooting us.” After its release last week, some Twitter users advocated a boycott of her Super Bowl performance.
Alicia Keys also made a statement in support of Woods at the start of her performance at a pre-Super Bowl party in San Francisco on Friday night.
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