Reading the reviews in Indiewire and the New York Times of Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' that premiered on HBO on Saturday April 23rd, 2016, it's possible to overlook the 65 minute film's roots in independent filmmaking.
In an April 26th, 2016 piece for The New Yorker, Richard Brody explores how the American system of publicizing independently-financed films has failed to support distinctive filmmakers - like Julie Dash - whose 1991 film "Daughters of the the Dust" was one of the inspirations for Beyoncé's 'Lemonade', a visual-album that is itself a fascinating piece of filmmaking.
As Richard Brody notes: "Part of the blame lies with critics—predominantly white critics—who paid no attention [to pioneering African-American woman Julie Dash, and indie films about the African-American experience like her Daughters of the Dust]. But part of the blame lies with a system of tacit complicity between critics and the industry that poses obstacles to the recognition of independent films."
Questions of real-life infidelity in Beyoncé's marriage seemed to dominate new reports - rather than the debt owed to indie filmmakers - when the music and the film of 'Lemonade' were released via the online streaming service Tidal (a company owned by Beyoncé's husband, Shawn "Jay Z" Carter) during the HBO premiere.
Initial reports suggested that after the HBO screening the only place to get 'Lemonade' would be on the subscription-based Tidal. But, as of April 25, 'Lemonade's' music and the film were also for sale on iTunes and Amazon. Amazon even has a preorder option available for a CD/DVD set, which will apparently include the "corresponding short film."
The platforms that are offering the film of 'Lemonade' are in themselves a fascinating story for anyone interested in monetization of non-studio content.
As is the enthusiastic response online - with users marketing 'Lemonade' through copious tweets:
Consider how in the past indie films struggled to get a one-week theatrical run in NY or LA - to merit a review in the leading papers and consideration for year-end awards.
To get a sense of how much Beyoncé might owe to prior filmmakers, take a look at the video below - put together by video essayist Nelson Carvajal - with excerpts from 'Lemonade' on the left set against excerpts from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks,Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, Pipilotti Rist's video installation Ever Is Over All, Cameron Jamie's dance short Massage The History, Jonas Mekas' found footage and Terence Nance's An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty.
Currently, there is still no way to stream the film of 'Lemonade' online without a Tidal subscription. And there have been no plans announced for a theatrical release...
UPDATE May 1, 2016: The windowed release (exclusive to TIDAL for the first two days starting on April 23rd, then on iTunes and Amazon on April 25th) has apparently encouraged fans to sign up for TIDAL. (TIDAL may have also been the beneficiary this week of Prince's untimely death, as TIDAL is the only legal service offering access to his library.) After the HBO premiere and the release of Beyoncé's new music and film exclusively on TIDAL, TIDAL which had recently been struggling to attract new users, became the most popular music app on the iOS app store – jumping up 134 places on the chart of the most-downloaded free iOS apps in the US on April 23rd and then another 14 places on April 24th - finishing above both Pandora and Spotify (Apple Music is a native app and therefore isn’t counted). TIDAL is free to download - but there is a US$9.99 per month subscription charge that kicks in after the free trial (US$19.99 for lossless, high-resolution audio). Unlike Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud - which have unpaid ad-supported tiers, TIDAL requires a paid subscription. As reported by Tim Ingham in musicbusinessworldwide.com: "As a result of Lemonade, TIDAL has enjoyed many more sign-ups, much higher brand awareness, a sustained run at No.1 on the US app chart and an increasingly solid subscriber income. When TIDAL gets sold – and I for one can’t see Jay Z sticking around too long with what must be a loss-making entity – Beyoncé the shareholder [with a rumored 3% ownership interest in her husband's music streaming service] will collect her winnings."
UPDATE: June 9, 2016: A lawsuit filed in NY on June 8th, 2016 is accusing Beyoncé of copyright infringement, claiming that the trailer for Lemonade includes unpermissioned copying of a short film entitled Palinoia. The plaintiff, Matthew Fulks, is an independent filmmaker. He alleges that - while soliciting work as a music video director - links to his original film Palinoia were sent to people on Beyoncé's team at Columbia Recording, including Bryan Younce. According to a June 8, 2016 report in the Hollywood Reporter, Younce sent Fulks "a note acknowledging that he had received his "info" with an invitation to submit a treatment for consideration by Columbia." Five months later, Lemonade went into production. Fulks claims that the trailer for Lemonade is a derivative work that "misappropriates the visual content, audio content (sound effects, dialogue, audio timing), mood, setting, theme, pace, and total content and feel" of Palinoia. Here are the two videos at issue, first the one by Fulks and then Beyoncé's trailer. What do you think? Did Beyoncé's team infringe?