Ethical Formation: Does Beyoncé’s New Video Profit from Imagery of Hurricane Katrina?


By: Emily Jenab

When Beyoncé dropped her recent single “Formation,” she received notable praise for her integration of black pride into mainstream music. However, she also received criticism from natives of New Orleans, who were appalled at watching their trauma from Hurricane Katrina unfold in a 5-minute video. There are stories, histories, narratives, that cannot be told in minutes – pain that cannot be adequately addressed in a short video.

This raises questions about ethics and morals when it comes to capitalizing on the use of other’s stories of pain for success, similar to those raised in a previous post on the ethics of storytelling in Humans of New York.

As Maris Jones of BGD points out, “it is not enough to put flooded houses on screen nor to drown yourself in the water. It is not enough to show a young boy in a hoodie able to make stoic police officers put their hands up in surrender by the force of his dancing and unadulterated existence as a child.”

The imagery of the video is striking: we are shown empty parking lots, churches, wig shops, and, finally, Beyoncé’s body, atop a cop car, obscured by flooded waters. However, most of the imagery comes from a documentary, That B.E.A.T, whose filmmaker and director state that no one involved was contacted for the use of such footage. This is tied to the issue of stealing someone else’s narrative.

I will note here, that I am speaking from a point of relative privilege.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.