Pretty in Pink and Lemonade’s Conciliatory Third Act

It seems that when we talk about ‘Lemonade’, we love it, at least primarily, for its tenacity, its power, its anger, and so, for its validation of the tumult black women often experience just by daring to exist. It was the righteous first two acts of ‘Lemonade’ that friends gushed about over text, that colleagues mentioned first thing the morning after the short film’s release—especially a window-shattering dance through the streets in a canary yellow dress, where Beyoncé exacts a simultaneously composed and manic revenge with a baseball bat labeled “Hot Sauce”. Yet, in this segment, where Beyoncé sings “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you,” there are already gestures towards the video’s conciliatory third act, which, to many viewers’ initial disappointment, didn’t deliver more clear-cut expressions of female power or offer unambiguous consequences for betrayal and abuse, but instead, insisted on images of forgiveness, sentimentality, and male vulnerability.

The influences for “Hold Up” seem to range from Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows,” a song about the temporary feeling of triumph after vandalizing a cheating ex’s car, to Pipilotti Rist’s installation “Ever Is Over All,” in which a woman smashes car windows with a giant flower, to Björk’s “Oh So Quiet” video, in which she dances somewhat destructively through a city in a golden dress, singing about about the abrupt start and stop of romantic relationships. The visual and thematic legacy for “Hold Up” is not only one of power and anger, but of vulnerability, confusion, and of insistent love. Sullivan sings “but it didn’t mend my broken heart,” Björk sputters “you’ve never felt so nuts about a guy/you wanna laugh/you wanna cry/then cross your heart and hope to die,” and in the Rist video, two side-by-side images are displayed: one of the camera panning over fields of flowers, and the other of the woman smashing windows with one of those very flowers. So already, we know that, in ‘Lemonade,’ the emotional process will not be linear or aggregate.

Where black women’s anger has rarely been portrayed as complex and malleable, we’ve often seen these kinds of portrayals where white women are concerned. In Pretty in Pink (yes, that 1980s Ringwald/Hughes production), Andie is a funky-dressing misanthropic working class high schooler who is asked out by Blane, a rich, socially validated but kind-eyed and baby-faced senior. What ensues is clear attraction, and then exceeding difficulty over class difference. But Andie and Blane manage to fall in love, and he asks her to the prom, which she had previously planned to skip, having thought of it as meaningless and only a perpetuation of the alienation she was already feeling at school. The most brilliant scene from Pretty Pink is when, after he stops returning her calls, Andie corners Blane in the hallway at school to ask him what’s going on and if he’s still taking her to prom. Blane sheepishly answers “I promised someone else and totally forgot,” and Andie loses it. Her anger does not manifest as self-righteous accusation, but as annihilating heartbreak and disillusion. She hits and yells, saying, “I knew it! You coward!” with her eyes wide and gleaming, her face red, and her body shaking. Andie, like Jazmine, Björk, and Beyoncé, is in love and unhappy.

Like ‘Lemonade,’ Pretty in Pink has a redirecting third act—one that actually was not written into the original script, but added after the film was screen-tested in front of an audience. (The audience wanted a Blane and Andie reconciliation at the prom, rather than the triumphant independent-woman, fuck-the-rich-kids ending that Hughes had envisioned.) Andie shows up to the prom alone and finds her best friend, Duckie, who escorts her inside. Blane’s there and approaches them, acknowledges Duckie, compliments Andie and apologizes. Then, in a cathartic show of vulnerability, with the similar gleaming tears, red face, and soft shaking to Andie’s explosion in the hallway, he says “I love you”, kisses her on the cheek, and leaves. Duckie then reveals to Andie that Blane came to the prom alone, Andie goes after him, and the two kiss in the rain in the parking lot. There is no triumphant prom without Blane, no vindication of working-class resilience, but instead, a rare moment of male vulnerability that allows Blane to say definitively what he wants at the cost of his social power and air of breezy indifference. Blane surrenders, finally acknowledging Andie’s anxieties about the relationship as valid and as a product of not just her insecurities, but his as well.

If ‘Lemonade’s’ third act delivers on any of the power that precedes it, it’s the unorganized rage of “Hold Up”: the shaky, gleaming-eyed confusion in Beyoncé’s saunter down the street (“what a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you” is teasing but also echoes the resounding “but how??” that we all asked ourselves when faced with a narrative in which Beyoncé is cheated on) gives way to an almost fetal-positioned Jay-Z in the “Sandcastles” segment. Like Jazmine Sullivan, Beyoncé admonishes, but the triumph is that she need not carry on admonishing.

In “Hold Up,” Beyoncé asks, “what’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?” and then, “Or like being walked all over lately?” Ultimately deciding, she’d “rather be crazy”—a term which many feminists have identified as ableist, but also can be understood as the repurposing of a term often used to undermine expressive and emotional women—choosing so-called “craziness” over passivity, but also choosing chaotic, complicated feelings over clear-cut ones. The vindication Beyoncé chooses for her show of “craziness” is Jay-Z’s show of vulnerability, so that black female rage is no longer about being right or justified or untarnished in the eyes of God, but about expression itself, the permission to be confused, caught up; it is about to demand to be cared for, and then the strength to accept that care—to be Crazy in Love.


Cassie da Costa is a writer who focuses on moving image and performance. She's based in Brooklyn and works as a member of The New Yorker's editorial staff while also producing the magazine's video podcast, The Front Row, featuring film critic Richard Brody.

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