First off, happy birthday Beyoncé, First of Her Name, Mother to Blue and Leader of the Hive. It goes without saying, we all know the now 40-year-old mostly for being a superstar songstress, a performer, and for her six studio albums. Beyond Beyoncé’s musical prowess and powerful stage presence, a lot of people (outside of the hive) forget that she’s also graced our screens.
Even though her recent cinematic appearances have focused on her voice, as she lent her coloratura mezzo-soprano pipes to The Lion King, she’s done everything from musicals to thrillers. Some of these roles, however, are clearly blemishes on her near-perfect career. I’ve heavily suspected that she’s keen to wipe some of them from public memory and in an interview with Black Film in 2006 I found she basically confirmed this suspicion when talking about a short part in a Disney sitcom (“it was my first acting gig and I hope no one ever finds it”)
So if you’re looking to dive into Beyoncé’s acting back catalogue I’ve rounded up her efforts and ranked them from award-worthy feats you should watch to the projects she’s almost definitely trying to hide that I’m happy to bury.
MUST WATCH: Obsessed (2009)
If you haven’t seen Beyoncé in this before, I need you to reschedule your plans, open up Netflix and stream this. In Obsessed, Bey plays Idris Elba’s doting (and kind of boring wife). Together Sharon and Derek have a picture-perfect life: a new gorgeous house, a cute baby, and they’re so deeply in love they can’t even wait to move the furniture into the house to fuck. They just go at it on the carpet. “I guess we’ll have fun carpet tattoos over our asses,” she says as she kisses him. What could go wrong?
Enter Lisa, Derek’s temp assistant, who at first appears to be a friendly and eager-to-please blonde trying to make a good impression in the office. In actuality Lisa is the spawn of satan, she’s every man’s worst nightmare. Her flirtatious banter is enticing and Derek is polite so he gives her a little bit of polite attention but because she’s absolutely crackers his brief interaction lights the fuse for an explosive obsession that sees her stalk him with the intent to ruin his current life so they can start a new one together.
The majority of the film Bey is a bit of a simp. She doesn’t have her own hobbies, waits at home daily for her busy husband and practically has to beg for autonomy as she says: “We had agreement you said that you’d work hard, I’d have a baby, you’d get your promotion, and then I get my degree”.
But it’s the final act where she starts demanding better treatment from her husband and delivers a warning shot to her husband’s stalker: “You came into my house, you touched my child. You think you’re crazy? I’ll show you crazy. Just try me bitch!” She’s giving Sasha Fierce as she closes the film with an epic earth-shattering fight scene where the home wrecker literally wrecks her perfect home but gets her ass beat in the process. Beyoncé even won an MTV movie award for Best Fight for this scene.
This is my second favourite Beyoncé to grace our screens. Dreamgirls tells the story of a Motown girl group, based on The Supremes, on their rise to fame in ran industry which is constantly policing their looks, gender and their Blackness. Starring alongside the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Anika Noni Rose, Bey had a lot of people she had to outshine many of whom have an in-built acting ability that would intimidate anyone. Even the Queen herself.
It’s not that she didn’t take all of her on-screen roles seriously – our girl is of course a professional – but she really gave her portrayal of Deena Jones (based on Diana Ross) her all. She even went as far as living on juice alone to emulate Diana’s petite frame. Whilst J Hud steals the entire film, and actually won an Academy Award for her efforts, Beyoncé makes Deena so believable that you start off hating her for being trifling and end up respectfully shedding a tear after she belts out ‘Listen’ in frustration at how she needs room to grow as her own woman. You can’t watch it without getting goosebumps or singing along and the film is a black family classic.
Cadillac Records (2008)
Playing the late Blues singer Etta James, Beyoncé was highly acclaimed for this role (that blonde wig was not). She shines as the no-nonsense Etta delivering a solid performance which many of us won’t forget anytime soon. The plot chronicles a record label from the 1940s to the 1960s that birthed stars like Etta and Chuck Berry. Her on-screen chemistry with her co-stars who include, Mos-Def, Jeffery Wright and Adrien Brody is excellent and she deserved all the accolades afforded to her.
As with a lot of her best performances, filmmakers recognise that you get two things for the price of one when you hire Bey as a lead as she sings the hell out of ‘I’d rather go blind’. In fact, it’s like something happened during the recording of this film that changed Beyoncé’s voice forever. All that Etta emulation actually made her voice permanently shift, the voice grew up, it got a mortgage and set up a pension plan. The voice started flicking through The Guardian Weekend on a Saturday.
Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001)
This was Bey’s debut in the acting world, and what an entrance. She plays the titular Camen, an aspiring actress who dreams of making it big. After getting into a fight with another woman at a bar she is arrested and falls in love with her arresting officer. Her voice really carried her through as she sings alongside Mekhi Phifer and Mos Def in this Black musical narrated by Da Brat that is adapted from the George Bizet opera.
At the time, Carmen: A Hip Hopera was edgy, sexy and had some really interesting green screen edits. Now it looks very dated and whacky but you can still admire the ambition. There Beyoncé is about to get a hernia from over-acting as she plays a siren so sexy that it literally gets her in trouble. You can almost hear her thought process as she delivers her looks to the camera (“now do a shocked face”) but what it lacks in slickness compared to some of her other projects it makes up for in bangers. Tell me you’re not bopping when Wyclef makes a cameo as a fortune teller to tell Carmen she is going to die. Another standout moment is ‘The last Great Seduction’ where Beyoncé seduces Mekhi’s character prompting him to ruin his relationship and career for her hips alone.
The Fighting Temptations (2003)
The Fighting Temptations, much like so many others of its ilk (namely Sister Act and Let it Shine) has the feel of a film you return to when there’s nothing else on and you want to have a good laugh. Alongside every single Black person in Hollywood including Cuba Gooding Jr, Faith Evans, Steve Harvey and even a young Chloe Bailey, Beyoncé shines as Lilly, the young single mother, RnB singer and love interest to Cuba Gooding Jr’s character.
The Fighting Temptations sees down-and-out Gooding Jr returning to his hometown to take over the dying church choir. With a large sum of money on the line, he hopes to whip the choir into shape in return to salvage the rest of his life but doesn’t intend on becoming so invested.
This feel-good film might be some fans’ favourites, but I just feel as though Beyoncé misses the mark here, with cliche lines and an even more rigid storyline (saving a church choir, yawn! We’ve seen it). At least she gets her happy ending in this one, unlike Carmen but you can afford to skip this from your watchlist, to be honest.
The Pink Panther (2006)
I think this is a step above Beyoncé in Goldmember, cast alongside another white man (this time Steve Martin) who arguably was one of the strongest in the acting game at the time, Bey still holds her own. I know people hate this film as Beyoncé’s is just eye-candy, her role isn’t at all fleshed out and instead of lines she gives us looks (that sunhat, white dress number makes up for the entire film). But, in all honesty, who doesn’t like a bit of eye candy every so often and we get that amazing pink ‘Check on It’ music video. Don’t be a hater.
The Pink Panther sees Beyoncé play a singer (there’s a running theme here with the parts she gets cast to play) and is also the girlfriend of Jason Statham. Later she becomes the semi love interest of Inspector Clouseau. This comedic film doesn’t leave her with much room for growth as a character, and it was a dud at the Box Office, but what she lacks in lines, she makes up for in looks, and as we know with Beyoncé an outfit says a thousand words.
PLEASE BURY FOREVER: Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Let’s not play, we know that this was for the bag. The industry had discovered that Beyoncé could act and wanted to cast her in something light-hearted (if not tokenistic) role where she wasn’t singing the majority of the time.
Foxxy Cleopatra definitely isn’t a good character. Sexy but wooden, she stars alongside Mike Myers, playing the British spy’s ex-girlfriend and love interest. With her own slurry of lines and gun to boot, this role makes me cringe and I have no doubt Bey does also.
Those laugh scenes are a struggle, I can see it in her eyes, but she delivers her lines with a nod to the Blaxploitation era and gave us an instant soundtrack hit with ‘Work it Out’.
Some argue that this is her best acting role aside from her later animated ones – those people are liars.