Since the release of the trailer for the new The Lion King live-action (or CGI or animated, whatever tickles your fancy and allows you fall back from your personal “well, actually’”face-ass principles) film remake—set to drop in July 2019 - the jokes about H-town’s finest, Beyoncé “Sorry, I’m Not Sorry” Knowles’ acting chops have resurfaced. She will voice the role of Nala, Simba’s boo-thang, in the film.
Because she’s such an omnipresent figure in popular culture at this point, anything she does is worthy of note. Typically, she’s being lauded by not only the BeyHive, but the general populace. She’s out here dropping albums, blackin’ it up, womaning it up and basically being an all-around badass. Until it’s time for her to share some of those acting chops. Then the soft bodyblow jabs come. For instance, one of the funniest takes I saw on her voicing the role of Nala was a desire for Bey to realize that Nala was not from Houston since apparently (allegedly) Beyoncé’s only ability to deliver lines is with a Houston twang. I guffawed.
And you know what, there’s some truth there. When I think of her playing the role of Etta James in Cadillac Records, she sounded an awful lot like her character Lilly in the movie The Fighting Temptations. Deena Jones in Dreamgirls? Yeah, that one too, now that I think about it. So the multi-talented performer struggles with change...who doesn’t?
The going rate on Beyoncé’s acting is that it’s bad. And you know what? I don’t agree. But to illustrate how I got to this admitted hot take of sorts, I think we need a working definition of what makes one a bad actor. Because acting is pretty subjective, I think it is hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all definition. I think it’s almost better to use examples.
For instance, we pretty much agree across the board that Denzel Washington is a good actor. Same with, say, Angela Bassett. I think the jury is out on Taraji P. Henson, who we love and that love means we consider her to be a good actor. She aight; she’s Taraji at all times. Halle Berry is the same though she probably leans more heavily to not very good. Taye Diggs? Eh. Morgan Freeman? Good. James Earl Jones, well of course. Will Smith is a good actor in my opinion. Alfre Woodard is a good actor. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee? Classics.
But even in that short list there, there’s lots of room for debate and dispute. I know people who swear Taraji is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and even I love Taraji and what she brings to the screen even if I don’t think she’s “great,” per se. Though I think what constitutes good might be subjective, I do think most of us know bad when we see it, and I just don’t think Beyoncé falls in that realm.
I watch a lot of African-American cinema. A lot. I watch movies you don’t even know exist. I say this to say, I see a lot of actual bad acting. There are dozens of people whose entire career exists in Amazon Prime recommendations and movies you only find on Netflix after you unlock the “You Watch A Lot of Movies With Black People, Try This” suite. I see tons of movies with Essence Atkins and Karrueche Tran and Keith Robinson. Not to say all of those folks are trash, I’m just saying its been a while since Essence Atkins was on your silver screen, and for me it was yesterday.
This means I also watch stuff like My Sidepiece Hit The Lotto and Plug Love. Now you might say, “those movies are made knowing they’ll be bad, and Beyoncé be trying.” You may be right. Though with the exception of Dreamgirls, I’m not sure I feel like Beyoncé has ever acted in a movie under the auspices of it possibly being an award-winning performance. Dreamgirls was partially stacked because she was playing a version of herself.
But she’s been in (including the upcoming The Lion King) 10 movies. Two are voice roles and one is Fade to Black, the Jay-Z concert documentary so they’re all out. As is Carmen: A Hip-Hopera because it’s basically an MTV musical. The universe of roles to consider and her performances in them includes Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Fighting Temptations, Dreamgirls, Obsessed, Cadillac Records and The Pink Panther.
Of all the movies listed, there is no role where any of us said, Bey killed that role but she also wasn’t trash in most of them. I will concede that she wasn’t very good, even borderline bad, in the Austin Powers film, but I will generously blame the material. I actually really liked her in The Fighting Temptations and Dreamgirls and will acknowledge that she may have studied too hard for Etta James in Cadillac Records; I don’t even remember her in The Pink Panther at all. Obsessed made me laugh (the movie, not Bey) and I’m pretty sure that was not the intention of the movie.
Of those six movies, she wasn’t bad in four of them to me, maybe five, but again, I just don’t remember The Pink Panther so I’ll concede it could have been a bad performance. But overall, she’s just Bey and I think that gets held against her. It also probably doesn’t help that she hasn’t been in what could be considered a serious movie, so to speak. Will Smith had his Six Degrees of Separation moment that allowed us to see him in a role we weren’t accustomed to. All we see is Beyoncé being Beyoncé and many are like, she’s not good at this. And while I, again, don’t necessarily think she’s great, she’s also not bad.
Do I think Beyoncé deserves any awards for acting at this point in her career? No, I don’t. But do I think that she has enough natural chops where if she worked at it and studied and took on a role that was uncomfortable (50 Cent keeps tryin’ this; 50 Cent is not good at this) she could deliver a solid, even “you know what, Beyoncé might be a good actress” turn? Yes, I do. Bey, ain’t bad, y’all.
Sorry (I’m not sorry).