Beyoncé... The African Queen?!

We've long known that music superstar, Beyoncé Knowles, can sing and dance (doing both extremely well), but we've also come to learn that she has a serious passion for fashion.

Growing up in Texas -alongside her equally fashionable sister, Solange Knowles- Beyoncé was entrenched in a household full of creative flair; her mother (Tina Knowles), was a beautician and dressmaker who designed and sewed the majority of costumes for Beyoncé's former pop group, Destiny's Child. Just a few, short years ago, Beyoncé -again- collaborated with her mother, to form a contemporary clothing label (House of DERÉON), that would give fans a virtual taste of Beyoncé's personal style and affinity for clothing. Not only have fans recognized her appeal, so has the fashion industry, she's been a spokesmodel for top companies such as Tommy Hilfiger and L'Oréal, and she's also graced the cover of almost every major, fashion magazine, i.e. Elle, V (Visionaire), Harper's Bazaar, W, VOGUE, et. al. Most recently she was tapped for yet another title, this time posing for L'Officiel, a French fashion magazine that's been published in Paris since 1921.

(L'Officiel, 1928)

(Beyoncé for L'Officiel, March 2011 cover)

Next month, L'Officiel will commemorate its 90th anniversary, and sought after Beyoncé to help carry out their celebratory theme of royalty... African royalty. As seen in the magazine's video footage, a spokesperson for the project says, "the idea of the shoot, is paying homage to the African queens through the ages."

(Beyoncé for L'Officiel, March 2011 editorial)

Moreover, with all of the magazine's good intentions towards creatively portraying Black culture, the content that features Beyoncé, has placed them -along with her- in the hot seat. There are several photographs -within the fashion spread- that depict the starlet not only in African-inspired ensembles, but also with her skin "voluntarily" darkened, appearing in blackface.

(Beyoncé for L'Officiel, March 2011 editorial)

The online community (fans and bloggers alike), has been in an uproar over the magazine's release of the images, calling them 'distasteful' and 'offensive,' especially because of Beyoncé's high-profile and the sensitive nature of the pictures. YouTube.com subscribers have viewed L'Officiel's video channel more than 42,000+ times (just to see behind-the-scenes footage of Beyoncé at the photo shoot). One user 'anavywife28' said, "Beyonce is already black, so why the black face? Strange times we're living in....," while 'buzywil' says, "I think Beyonce is beautiful, and I don't think the black face is demeaning, it wasn't used in that manner like Hollywood used it back in the day."

(minstrel 'blackface' poster, circa 1900)

Wikipedia.org describes blackface as "...theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and propagated American racist stereotypes such as the 'happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation' or the 'dandified coon'... blackface minstrels not only played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions worldwide, but also in popularizing black culture... The minstrel show was appropriated by the black performer from the original white shows, but only in its general form. Blacks took over the form and made it their own. The professionalism of performance came from black theater. The black minstrels gave the shows vitality and humor that the white shows never had. The black minstrel performer was not only poking fun at himself but in a more profound way, he was poking fun at the white man."

(Bert Williams, African American 'blackface' performer, circa 1910)

(Bamboozled, a Spike Lee film, circa 2000)

So, is this the case for Beyoncé... poking fun at herself, while simultaneously slamming her critics... or is there more to the story?! You be the judge.

* Video (Beyoncé, L'Officiel: behind the scenes, 2011)

The 90th anniversary issue of L'Officiel (featuring Beyoncé), is currently on newsstands.

www.google.com, en.wikipedia.org, www.jalougallery.com, www.youtube.com/TheJalouTV (anavywife28, buzywil), www.beyonceworld.net


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