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Beyoncé and Jay–Z paid tribute to black athletes — and black power — for Halloween

Black Olympians Florence Griffith–Joyner and Tommie Smith got a Carter family salute.

Beyonce / Instagram
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Beyoncé and Jay Z are known for consistently impressing with their head-turning Halloween costumes, but this year, their embrace of black excellence and cultural cachet via costumes celebrating black heroes drew attention for reasons that transcended fashion.

In the past, the couple has frequently used their Halloween costumes to call back to memorable moments in black culture, channeling a variety of famous figures like Salt-N-Pepa and Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. And this year, Beyoncé created not one but two Halloween looks, starting with “Phoni Braxton,” a tribute to ’90s R&B icon Toni Braxton and the memorable covers of Braxton’s self-titled 1993 debut album and its breakout single, “Another Sad Love Song.”

It’s always fun when one pop icon pays tribute to another, but Phoni Braxton didn’t steal the show. That honor goes to Beyoncé’s couple’s costume with Jay Z, and their tribute to famous black athletes — and one famous black power moment.

Clad in a bright two-toned unitard, Bey paid tribute to the unrivaled queen of Olympic track and field, Florence Griffith–Joyner. A three-time gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics, Griffith–Joyner, a.k.a. FloJo, set world records for the 100– and 200–meter dash that are still standing today.

Beyoncé recreated the distinctive look FloJo wore during the 1988 Olympic trials, when she set her world record for the 100–meter dash. Additionally, in one of several Instagram photos she shared of the costume, she paid tribute to FloJo’s habit of kneeling after a race.


Beyoncé’s fans were quick to celebrate the look, as well as her choice to honor an inspiring sports legend. (Griffith-Joyner, who retired after her record-smashing 1988 season, died unexpectedly in 1998 at the age of 38 due to epilepsy.)

But it was a photo with Jay–Z that really turned heads, as it paid homage to one of the more controversial moments in Olympics history. Jay Z, keeping with his wife’s track-and-field theme, dressed up as a member of the 1968 US men’s track and field Olympic team, which won two medals in the 200–meter dash, with sprinters Tommie Smith taking gold and John Carlos taking bronze. While standing on the podium during the medal ceremony, both men raised their fists in a black power salute that famously sparked outrage and ostracized them from the Olympics community.

The actions of Smith and Carlos — who also removed their shoes for the ceremony, in protest of American poverty — prompted boos in the stadium, and resulted in their being suspended from the Olympic team. But the moment was quickly hailed as a defining civil protest, and would serve as an ironic inspiration five decades later for the NFL kneeling protests started by Colin Kaepernick in 2017 that have continued well into 2018. And it clearly inspired Jay Z, who doubled down on the comparison by photoshopping himself into the original famous Life magazine photo of the protest, standing in for Tommie Smith.

Somewhat refreshingly, the costumes’ embrace of black excellence didn’t seem to generate controversy despite our collective existence in an increasingly polarized age when just about everything remotely political becomes the target outrage, at least on social media. Instead, Instagram and Twitter brimmed with praise and admiration for the paired looks. This could be evidence that the power couple might have actually transcended debate — a true Halloween miracle. And if anybody could do that, it’s Mr. and Mrs. Carter.