From the opening scene of, Life is But a Dream, it’s clear why The Washington Post criticized the documentary for having “no linear narrative…like a hallucinatory advertisement for success.” The recurring interview with Beyoncé takes place in an unnaturally well-lit room, perhaps an artistic representation of the “dream” referred to in the film’s title. She sits with her legs stretched out on the couch, her hands crossed and her braids piled into an intricate bun on the top of her head. During the film, Beyoncé details her decision to fire her father, who was her manager until 2011. She describes the difficulty of trying to balance familial relationships and the stress of work—stress which appears to result from the constant frenzy surrounding Beyoncé during recordings sessions, and never the star herself.
In the film, Beyoncé speaks, like many celebrities, in platitudes. She reminds the viewers that sometimes she just wishes she had a normal life. She complains of having to sacrifice normal things teenage girls do, such as, in her words, “the prom,” or “the game.” (As I listened I couldn’t help but think to myself, “yeah Bey, you really missed out when you had to skip senior prom to tour with Destiny’s Child.”) At the end of the film, her voice quivers as she tells audience that she believes her fame and fortune are more than her own doing. “It’s a tingling…It’s love. I feel it when I look at my husband. I feel it when I look at my child. It’s God.”
What bothered me most as I watched the documentary was the lack of substance in Beyoncé’s responses to questions. Of course celebrities who don’t want to speak openly about their lives often appear shallow because they can’t give honest answers. Life is But a Dream depicted Beyoncé as surrounded by problematic people, but herself only a victim of the incompetency of others. I was also put off by the fact that Beyoncé spoke with a kind of airy sweetness that seemed at odds with her stage persona, Sasha Fierce. It was a sweetness that lacked depth, and failed to convey the power or feminism of songs such as “Single Ladies” and “Countdown.” But in an interview with Oprah after her documentary had aired, Beyoncé said something that led me to reassess Beyoncé’s meekness. Beyoncé had been polite and amenable throughout the entire interview, answering questions in between fits of possibly forced laughter, hands folded neatly in her lap. Oprah, perhaps trying to pry a less-than-typical answer out of her guess, asked Beyoncé if Sasha Fierce ever came out off-stage. Bey was quick to respond. “No no,” she told Oprah, “Sasha Fierce for the fans. She doesn’t do interviews, she only performs.”
Most of us are guilty of idealizing our favorite celebrities. It’s practically impossible not to idealize the objects of society’s obsession with creating a spectacle of talent. But Beyoncé’s response to Oprah shattered my perception of the real Beyoncé. Expecting her to be Sasha Fierce is a problem many fans have must with her, but who are we to say how she should act? The fact that she doesn’t live up to our expectations in Oprah interviews, or even in her own documentary, doesn’t diminish her undeniable talent and success as a public entertainer. In fact, it may be a testament to Beyoncé’s genius as a performer that she has us all fooled.