First, Alicia Keys brought up the 26-year-old African-American man killed by San Francisco police in December at a pre-Super Bowl concert.
Then, Beyoncé's backup dancers held up a "Justice 4 Mario Woods" sign during a break in the halftime Super Bowl show on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The signs were the idea of Bay Area activists Ronnisha Johnson and Rheema Emy Calloway. The two first posted the now-viral video on the Black Lives Matter Bay Area Twitter account, The Guardian first reported.
The dancers wore black leather berets and Afro hairstyles reminiscent of the 1960s Black Power movement. At one point during the performance the backup dancers and Beyoncé gave a salute, and formed an X formation seen from the ground, and well as from above, which many observers on social media decided was a reference to Malcom X. "Formation" is also the title of Beyoncé's new single and forthcoming world tour, and Xs and Os are used in football formations.
After BLMBayArea posted the video, on Sunday, Al Jazeera Plus picked it up too, tweeting out a short video clip of the dancers holding up the Woods sign, with the caption: "Beyoncé brought black culture center stage at the Super Bowl. But her backup dancers may have done something more powerful."
Woods was killed by police on Dec. 2 when officers say he had stabbed someone and refused to drop his knife. However, Woods’ family and attorney John Burris say cell phone video footage taken at the scene clearly shows he wasn’t an imminent threat.
Not everyone was enamoured with the political performance.
Former New York City mayor and failed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani spoke to "Fox & Friends" on Monday, telling host Anna Kooiman that he thought the act was "terrible," though he didn't mention Woods specifically.
"I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive," he told the news agency. "And what we should be doing in the African-American community, and all communities, is build up respect for police officers."