This weekend, Beyoncé snatched all the edges and gave us all the life we could’ve asked for with an epic 2-hour headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Her performance was a defining moment that simultaneously elevated her art, broadened her fanbase, and made us collectively proud of our Blackness. I didn’t attend an HBCU, but that performance made me wish I did, and I was happy to see that experience displayed on such a visible stage.
But, watching or supporting any part of Coachella is cause for conflict.
First, Beyoncé is the first Black woman to headline the festival in its nearly 20-year history. Since its first installment in 1999, festival organizers have constantly filled the lower ranks of its lineup with Black performers. But only now have they seen fit to let a Black female artist take centerstage?
Also, on a lesser note, music festivals in general have faced their fair share of problems. There have been massive scams (i.e. Fyre Festival), an inability to provide unique experiences, death and injury due to dehydration, drug overdoses, and collapsing stages, and exorbitant prices (Coachella VIP passes top out at $1,000).
However, surprisingly, these aren’t Coachella’s biggest issues. The festival’s founder, Philip Anschutz, is staunchly anti-LGBTQ. Publicly, he sings a different tune. In a 2017 statement to Rolling Stone, he expressed pride in Coachella’s diverse hiring practices and showed support for LGBTQ rights. He said, “I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us – the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.”
But Anschutz’s 2016 tax return tells a different story. NewNowNext reports that he donated a combined $90,000 to Navigators Christian Ministry and Dare 2 Share Ministries, which have both denounced homosexuality as Satanic and a sign of sexual brokenness. He has also donated over $200,000 to Republican politicians and SuperPACs that have supported an anti-LGBTQ agenda.
Though he claims to support us, his spending reveals a different truth.
So, where does that leave us? We want to support Bey, arguably the greatest living performer of our time and a beacon of Black excellence, but in this context, doing so means giving money, views, and attention to an organization that ultimately funds our opposition. What happens when our cultural interests and human rights collide?
This is a delicate situation that some celebrities are living out in real-time. Model and actress Cara Delevingne called out Anschutz for his anti-LGBTQ donations but still expressed admiration for Beyoncé’s performance on Instagram. Her fans accused her of hypocrisy; she fired back, expressing that she could support an artist and still maintain her views of the festival and its founder. #imwithcara
For those who paid to attend the festival, or who stayed awake until 2 a.m. to watch the landmark performance, they likely had no idea of the subtext of their entertainment. And I admit, I too spent a large part of my Sunday morning searching the web for full video of Bey’s set.
Personally, I’ve resolved to watch clips, read think pieces, and hold out for that inevitable TIDAL exclusive release of the full performance. But ultimately, Coachella isn’t getting a dime from me as long as that revenue is used to encroach upon my human rights. And if you value your freedom, over your entertainment and your love of all things pop culture, you’ll do the same.
Cover photo: Vox.com