Amy Schumer is a comedian. Whether or not you like her brand of funny (or her politics), the star has unfairly come under fire for parodying the famous Beyoncé “Formation” video with a video of her own. This is another example of an overly sensitive culture that would rather censor art and speech than offend.
Beyoncé caused a stir when she performed the song during the halftime show at the Super Bowl this year. However, it's Schumer’s new video that features her dancing alongside Goldie Hawn and Joan Cusak as well as comedian Wanda Sykes that has fanned new outrage. Frankly, the only reason one knows she’s parodying “Formation” is because the song plays in the background and they lip sync to it. Otherwise, the Hawaiian location with Schumer and Hawn clad as two shipwrecked party girls is far from the stark New Orleans background, the Givenchy-clad boss lady Beyoncé, her dancers in bodysuits, and locals in casual urban attire.
Now, the video did feature two black women and other women of color, and critics say this is an example of cultural appropriation. The term refers to white people using the clothing, style, practices of other cultures without attribution and acknowledgement of struggles those cultures have endured.
People on Twitter were quick to call out Schumer:
However, there were quite a few black women on Twitter who did not find it funny. Activist and writer Feminista Jones called out Schumer and Hawn for parodying a song ostensibly about blackness and black womanhood, and started the #AmySchumerGottaGoParty. The hashtag soon began trending on Saturday night, with many people joining the party without even knowing about the parody video.
That video wasn’t a parody. Parodies are funny. That video was just more of her showing her shit racist personality #AmySchumerGottaGoParty
— The Alchemist (@AlchemistEmrys) October 24, 2016
In the past Schumer has been accused of telling racist jokes, implying that black men are more sexually aggressive than others, and exploiting black women in her comedy.
Not deterred though, in a post for Medium she’s defiant and doesn’t apologize for the video:
“It was NEVER a parody. It was just us women celebrating each other. The video Beyoncé made was so moving and I wouldn’t ever make fun of that. There is absolutely no way to.
You have every right to feel however you feel about the video and me but I want you to know I’m not going anywhere. Use whatever hashtag you like. My mission is to continue to work as hard as I can to empower women and make them laugh and feel better and I won’t let anything stop me.
Good for Schumer for standing up against the charge of cultural appropriation. What she’s doing is comedy and a part of constitutionally-protected free speech. And hey, if Beyonce and Jay Z didn’t have a problem with it, why does anyone else. Schumer noted that she received the approval of the music powerful who even released it exclusively on their channel Tidal for its first day.
Schumer joins the growing list of comedians like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld who are decrying the moving of the lines of what’s funny for fear of crossing the boundaries of what’s offensive. Some comedians have censored their routines if they want to perform on college campuses.
There’s backlash against not just Schumer, but white feminists whom some black feminists claim have excluded them from the fight for women as The Root explains:
Schumer’s choice to parody this video is emblematic of a larger problem with white feminism: the long and storied history of cultural and intellectual gentrification of black women’s work in support of a feminism that actively and unrepentantly violates black women and women of color in the name of “women’s equality.”
To better understand the dismissal of Schumer and her white feminist sistren like Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, et al., we must resurface the ongoing debate about the inherent whiteness of feminism—notfeminisms that black women and women of color have practiced for centuries, but the model of feminism popularized by suffragette white women that continues the tradition of fashioning “women’s empowerment” through the lens and experiences of white, middle- and upper-class, cisgender women and repackages itself as the wholesale representative of all women’s experiences.
Do these black feminists have a point? Perhaps. That’s a discussion for another day.
The issue is that comedy is protected speech just as Beyonce’s music is protected. You may not like it or agree with it, but calling to silence Schumer for disrespecting black women is not that different from calls to silence Beyoncé for disrespecting law enforcement.
Struggle and political protest are important to the fabric of our nation. Every time we choose what should and should not be protected because it’s dissenting, offends, or challenges cultural norms, we are stifling the process that turns the unpopular into mainstream.