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On the Eve of Beyoncé’s ‘The Lion King,’ Let Us Remember Her Momentous Role in ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’

Nearly two decades removed from Foxxy Cleopatra, it’s stunning to recall a time when Queen Bey wasn’t nearly as careful with her creative choices as she is today

New Line Cinema/Ringer illustration

The new Lion King movie is out, and people are upset! Thanks to the baffling decision to swap out the vivacious, colorful characters of the 1994 classic for photorealistic depictions of animals who cannot emote because their faces resemble actual animal faces, the movie has been described as “lifeless,” “creatively bankrupt,” and “a photorealistic snuff film.” However, it might all be worth it for the Beyoncé.

Yes, Queen Bey’s regal pipes provide the voice for the rising Lion Queen, Nala, as she helps Simba—who’s having a gap year with a warthog and a meerkat—restore order to the Pride Lands. Regardless of whether the movie itself is good, this seems like a win-win: We can watch the original Lion King when we want to see The Lion King and watch the new one when we want to hear Beyoncé belt out “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Plus, she’s releasing a companion album!

There is, unfortunately, a downside. As The Lion King rises, we will reach the end of an era. After 17 long, wonderful years, we can no longer say that the most popular film to feature the most universally acclaimed artist on the planet is Austin Powers in Goldmember, the 2002 James Bond parody—the finale movie in an illustrious trilogy—in which Beyoncé made her feature film debut. Yes, before she had the Beyhive, Beyoncé had “Oh, beehive!”

Just so we’re clear—although I assume it’s too late to save my mentions—I am by no means arguing that Goldmember is the best film Beyoncé has been in, or her best acting performance. Those distinctions almost certainly go to Dreamgirls, the 2006 musical period piece in which Beyoncé played a Motown singer who definitely is not Diana Ross. Dreamgirls was critically acclaimed and won the Golden Globe for Best Picture in the Musical/Comedy category, while Beyoncé’s performance was nominated for Best Actress in the Musical/Comedy category. Her performance was slightly overshadowed by that of Jennifer Hudson, whose role as one of not–Diana Ross’s bandmates in the not-Supremes earned her the Oscar for Best Supporting actress, but still.

Outside of that, however, Beyoncé’s filmography is oddly limited. Not including The Lion King, she’s appeared in only seven feature films. She’s played a singer in four: The Fighting Temptations, The Pink Panther, Dreamgirls, and Cadillac Records. Besides Goldmember, the only live-action movie where she hasn’t played a singer is Obsessed, the 2009 psychological thiller in which she saves her home and marriage with Idris Elba from blond killer Ali Larter. Since Obsessed, she hasn’t appeared on screen in any movies. Her last movie role was a bit part in the 2013 animated movie Epic (I haven’t seen Epic, but she’s credited below Steven Tyler and Pitbull, so I’m gonna assume it was a small part). Beyoncé’s semiretirement from acting makes sense. Over the past decade, she’s seized near-complete control of her art and her public persona, releasing her albums and the accompanying ambitious video projects on her own terms, when she feels like it.

So when I say that thus far, Beyoncé’s biggest film role was Goldmember, I am not trying to be snarky or roast Beyoncé. It’s a statement of fact. Three of her movies have grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office: Dreamgirls, which made $103 million; Epic, which made $108 million; and Goldmember, which made $213 million, roughly twice as much as any other film she’s appeared in. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, Goldmember currently accounts for 39.6 percent of Beyoncé’s total box office gross. It’s obviously not fair to compare these two things because of the different ways we consume music and movies, but considering the average movie ticket price in 2002 was $5.81, we can estimate roughly 36.6 million tickets were sold to Goldmember; Beyoncé’s six studio albums, on the other hand, have sold a total of 38 million copies worldwide.

Now is the point in this article where I make a confession: I unironically love Goldmember (available for streaming on Netflix!). Sure, there are a handful of jokes that wouldn’t make it to screen today (Austin seduces a pair of Japanese twins named Fook Yu and Fook Mi, which is, like, not even what Japanese names sound like!) but overall, I stand by this take. The gags about the dumbness of the spy movie genre are great, roughly 2.7 of the four characters Mike Myers plays are hilarious, and the movie remains an innovator in the Comical Descriptors of Penises landscape. I am still out here referencing the movie in 2019. My best explanation for my deep, unabiding passion for the humor of Goldmember is that the movie is intended for 12-year-olds, that it came out when I was 12, and that I haven’t emotionally aged a day since.

Beyoncé, who was 21 when this came out, has emotionally aged quite a bit, which is what makes her appearance so baffling in retrospect. Her character, Foxxy Cleopatra, doesn’t appear on screen for the first 28 minutes of the movie, and her first line is “Welcome to Studio 69!” (like Studio 54, only with the sex number). Foxxy, a walking amalgamation of blaxploitation tropes, is some sort of cop who yells “Shazam!” when she punches people. She meets Austin when he travels back to 1975 to save his father, and, inexplicably smitten, follows him to the future to stop Dr. Evil’s plan of world destruction. The film is a series of embarrassments for her. She is forced to hold a box where the titular antagonist, Goldmember, stores his skin peelings so he can eat them later:

She gets kicked in the face by Goldmember on four separate occasions:

Her character is touted as an ass-kicking secret agent, but she loses basically every fight she participates in. And while the movie is a comedy, Beyoncé doesn’t get any laugh lines—she mostly uncomfortably smiles at the jokes told by Mike Myers and Michael Caine. (Oh, yeah, Michael Caine is in this movie too.) And like I said, she is completely smitten with a foolish pervert with rotting teeth and a forest of penis-shaped chest hair. She doesn’t have the most embarrassing fate of any Austin Powers female lead—poor Heather Graham has to seduce the 800-pound henchman Fat Bastard, who eats a postcoital turkey leg, so she can plant a homing device inside of his butthole—but it’s certainly not not embarrassing.

Which is to say: There is not enough money on the planet that would convince empowered billionaire polymath demigoddess Beyoncé, who has complete control over her public image and will not touch anything less-than-perfect and has received almost universal acclaim for both her artistic choices and her talents, to appear in a 2019 version of Goldmember, a dick joke parade where she gets humped by a 2-foot-tall clone.

And that sort of specific, of-its-time weirdness should be celebrated. These things happen! The Beatles started their career as the backing band for a lounge singer in Germany. Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team. The difference is that Beyoncé’s early-career embarrassment has remained her most popular on-screen appearance for almost two decades, even as she has ascended to her queendom. Now though, it is time to say farewell to Goldmember’s 17-year reign as Beyoncé’s most popular film. Long live the Queen, and may Goldmember shag in peace.