Stephen Amell, who stars the vigilante archer the Green Arrow on the CW series Arrow, has incurred the wrath of a new enemy: Beyoncé fans, a fandom commonly known as the Beyhive. On Twitter, a clash of fandoms is taking place, and it’s escalating into discussions regarding white privilege, and an exercise in how language and jokes determine what is “normal” and what is “othered” in predominantly white, mainstream culture.
The whole thing originates from a series of tweets Amell’s posted on April 14 during Coachella, the annual festival that beckons thousands of famous people to watch even more famous people perform. One of them was Beyoncé, the first black woman to headline the festival and whose performance was later called a modern classic. In writing for The New Yorker, Doreen St. Félix said Bey’s performance was “an education in black expression.”
Amell, a frequent social media user who attended the festival, tweeted a joke about skipping Beyoncé’s performance to watch HBO’s new documentary on Andre the Giant, released just a few days prior. (Amell is a known wrestling fan who has become involved in the industry; he competed at WWE SummerSlam in 2015 and is a member of the popular pro wrestling group, Bullet Club.)
“Heading to Coachella. When Beyonce gets on stage I’ll be watching*,” Amell tweeted. Further down, he revealed the star asterisk meant that he’ll actually be watching “The #AndreTheGiant documentary at home because I left 20 minutes before she comes on.” Note that Amell left out the accent aigu on Beyoncé’s name — this will be important later.
When a Beyoncé fan responded with a joke about how the spin-off The Flash gets more ratings, Amell said his joke wasn’t a slight on Beyoncé but about beating traffic. “I think Beyonce is amazing. This was about traffic. We were home to watch Destiny’s Child come out and be fantastic,” the actor responded. “Just relax.” He later declared Beyoncé the best performer at Coachella. “No other act was anywhere close to her.”
And that would be that. Except, Bey fans really took umbrage with Amell. Amell, doing himself no favors, called Bey fans “sensitive” based on the volume of responses. In a follow-up tweet to his praise for the singer, Amell added: “Also… Beyonce fans are very very sensitive. Remind me never to make a passive joke about music. Holy fucking shit.”
In several more tweets, Amell clarified that he was joking and that he wasn’t insulting Beyoncé. But, if he were insulting Beyoncé, “Peoples capacity to take a tiny slight and fire back with deeply personal tweets is alarming,” he said. “What a bunch of fucking losers.”
For a few days, Amell remained silent, instead tweeting about the forthcoming season finale. But on April 18, Kevin Allred, a speaker and writer who created an academic curriculum on Beyoncé in 2010, told Amell that his removal of the accent aigu on the “é” on “Beyoncé” is a subtle form of white supremacy.
“First of all, her name is Beyoncé. and are you playing so coy you pretend not to know ‘firing back’” with deeply personal tweets is (unfortunately) par for the course regardless of particular view on social media? ok. go play the victim somewhere else,” Allred quote-tweeted Amell.
Amell — once again doing himself no favors — responded, “my âpölògīés.” This particular tweet added new wrinkles, with critics noting white privilege on Amell’s part.
Often, black or foreign names are “othered” in white, heteronormative societies, and that the mere act of purposefully misspelling them is a shade of white supremacy. Critic Clarkisha Kent, a writer with bylines in The Root, BET, and HuffPo, explained in a long thread on Twitter how this works. In short, “It is because Black people, particularly in the American context, and their culture are othered at every turn and White Supremacist programming/anti-Black programming tells us to adapt/assimilate or else.”
Kent added: “Jokes about Black/uniquely Black names are intended to shame Black people out of embracing their Blackness (which is a threat to White supremacy). And in the case of BW, we are always the targets because of intersections of misogyny and racism.”
We’re not done. CNN contributor and They Call Us Bruce podcast host Jeff Yang later praised Kent, and called Amell “trash.” Amell, taking offense, responded to Yang, offering to talk it out on his podcast or a Facebook Live chat. Yang refused, on the basis that Yang, as an Asian-American, doesn’t have a stake and that Amell should instead engage with black female voices. Among Amell’s many responses, clarified that his lack of the accent aigu was because he was “being lazy in the midst of a mediocre joke. About traffic.”
Truly, there is a lot to unpack. For a while, Amell’s episode was centered purely on his personal taste, with a minor joke about a towering, imposing figure (Beyoncé). Everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if that opinion is pretty basic. (Also, Amell insists he doesn’t dislike Beyoncé.)
But the matter of language makes this complicated. Indeed, language can be an insidious form of white supremacy, as language can police people of color to assimilate into “whiteness” and erase their identity. Personally, my middle name, which is ethnically Filipino, is difficult for non-native speakers. Because I found it embarrassing to have my name butchered out loud at graduations, I simplified it to the initial. It would save time for everyone, I figured, but in hindsight I was letting white culture dictate what my name should be.
At the same time, a platform like Twitter isn’t known for flawless writing and spelling, for anyone. I also would like to believe Amell isn’t racist, nor dismissive, but his “joke” with the exaggerated accents is a bad look. In 2018, social media enables long-disenfranchised voices to finally speak out and reclaim dignity that white supremacy has withheld from them for generations. Because of this, there’s a lot to learn, and a lot to unlearn.
Beyoncé has yet to acknowledge Stephen Amell’s existence.
Arrow airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on The CW.