Even before this spring, when Lemonade showed her bashing patriarchy with a baseball bat and sinking a police car in New Orleans’ floodwaters, Beyonce’s art and politics had become inseparable. It made sense, then, that the superstar singer’s angel wings weren’t all that she intended us to notice when she arrived at Sunday’s Video Music Awards.
Four women, all of whom have lost children to gun violence or police killings, were among Beyonce’s entourage. Lezley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, Wanda Johnson, and Sybrina Fulton — the mothers of the late Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin, respectively — were decked out in their red-carpet best, making a statement with their mere physical presence.
These women, along with five others, have become household names for many as the Mothers of the Movement. The deaths of their children have become political fodder in a presidential year; all four have endorsed Hillary Clinton, and they all appeared in Philadelphia last month at the Democratic National Convention. “I am an unwilling participant in this movement,” Fulton said to the Democratic delegates about the 2012 shooting death of her teenage son, Trayvon Martin. “I would not have signed up for this. None of us would have.”
The Mothers have also seized a moment in American politics when awareness and anger around black death, caused by police or not, has reached a new fever pitch. And politicians aren’t the only ones lending their platforms.
We’ve seen these women as part of Beyonce’s squad before. McSpadden, Carr, and Fulton all appear in her video for “Freedom,” holding framed photos of their lost sons. They are powerfully evocative images, even for those unfamiliar with the faces in the photographs. Similarly, the presence of the Mothers at the VMAs should strike a chord with everyone watching.