Naila Keleta-Mae

Naila Keleta-Mae, University of Waterloo

Beyoncé: Performing Black Feminism


To some extent it is the mutability of her voice, the impenetrability of her image, the careful choreography of her public persona and the astute manipulation of audio, visual and audio-video mediums that position Beyoncé as one of the most influential performers of the 21st century. In 2013, Beyoncé released a record-breaking self-titled album that was a vexing performance of 21st Century mainstream feminism that captivated audiences worldwide. In 2016, she released the video “Formation,” which, when coupled with her performance of it at the NFL Super Bowl raised the ire of politicians, police officers and civilians alike with its explicit alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement and its references to the black civil rights era. A couple of months later Beyoncé released the film/album Lemonade — a complex meditation on African-American feminism. Over the past three years, Beyoncé has gone from pop culture mega superstar with vacuous lyrics and predictable imagery to a thoughtfully provocative mainstream artist whose performances demonstrate a social awareness of the complex intersections of race, gender, and capitalism. This presentation will consider moments in that evolution.

This is an unprecedented moment. We are witnessing a female black mega pop star pivot from pop to politics and still maintain mainstream appeal. Beyoncé’s recently released project, Lemonade, is a surprisingly complex experimentation with content and form. Not only does it critique black masculinity and commend black female anger, it also reimagines the genre of pop music.


Naila Keleta-Mae is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her research areas are race, gender and performance. A leading expert on Beyoncé’s artistic and media influence, Keleta-Mae been a guest critic for the BBC, CBC, CTV, The Canadian Press, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Vice, and The Fader. She is currently writing a book on Beyoncé for Between the Lines Press. Keleta-Mae’s scholarship appears in academic publications (including Theatre Research In Canada and Atlantis), and the volume In Defence of Theatre and Performance Studies in Canada. Her awards include the Lois Claxton Humanities and Social Sciences Award (University of Waterloo), New Scholars’ Prize (International Federation for Theatre Research), Mary McEwan Award for feminist scholarship (York University), Abella Scholarship for Studies in Equity (York University), and a SSHRC Graduate Scholarship.