Whew, Beyoncé’s long-awaited visual masterpiece based on her musical album; The Gift from her Lion King Disney film finally premiered on Disney+. Black is King, draws inspiration from the African diaspora through grand and creative re-imagination of a decolonized Africa. When Beyoncé accepted the role of Nala, Simba’s eventual queen in the remake of Lion King, she also took on curating the film’s soundtrack. As is custom with anything Beyoncé, she curated the film’s soundtrack and her album in a way that best correlated to Africa. She featured rising and established African musicians, songwriters, and producers. Black is King is a well thought out and detailed musical film, which drew inspiration from the African diaspora through a grand and creative re-imagination of a decolonized Africa.
While you enjoy the film, here are some things to take away from her masterpiece in musical art form.
Black Is Synonymous With Glory
In Black is King, Beyoncé sorts out African and Black American producers to create a stunning visual album that explores the pride and unlimited potential of Black people through the eyes of the African Diaspora while uniquely showcasing the fusion of Afrobeat, American RnB and pop music.
Beyonce films in the African plains and features many talented African artists; reintroducing African culture to the larger Black American audience. She includes the Nigerian gele and Haute couture from the Congo, gracefully displaying intricate African choreography and fashion throughout the film. Black is King’s mood also effortlessly showcases African crowns, head wraps, blinged-out headpieces and exquisite gowns adorned by Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, and a myriad of other guests throughout the visual film. It just screamed Black Is Luxury all throughout the film. Who wouldn’t feel inspired?
To the work of the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, whose words resounded throughout “Lemonade.” Shire’s selected aphorisms, spoken in a measured cadence—“You are welcome to come home to yourself. Let Black be synonymous with glory”—undertake the weight of history, but shakily so. The time-honored cultural honorifics of “ancestors” and “elders” become conflated; this, along with lyrical entreaties to the motherland, imposes a too-linear account of culture and time, despite the insistence, elsewhere in the film—in its sounds, fashion, settings—that Blackness is anything but straightforward. And, given the film’s brilliant palette, I longed for a bit of the theoretical sensibility of someone like Terence Nance (who collaborated with Bazawule on the 2011 short film “Native Son”), whose television series “Random Acts of Flyness,” with its vertiginous storytelling, makes a multidimensional case for a contemporary Blackness that is not necessarily beholden to the legacy of a pre-colonial continent—what the scholar Michelle M. Wright calls “epiphenomenal time.” As far as archetypes go, I prefer the virtuoso to the Earth Mother: give me Beyoncé in formation, in the pool, behind a mansion, for no reason other than fabulosity.
African Drip Been It
Vanessa Friedman says it best…
To describe the amount of fashion on display in “Black Is King” as an “extravaganza” or a “feast” or any of the other words used generally to convey exciting haute-runway content doesn’t even come close to the reality of the production. “Overwhelming” might be more like it. Beyoncé contains multitudes when it comes to artistic collaboration, and designers, too. They span the famous and the little-known, and the globe. An incomplete list of brands represented, for example, would include Valentino couture (cheetah-print bodysuit); Erdem (rose-festooned giant flounce tea dress); Burberry (cowhide cow print); Thierry Mugler (rainbow printed jersey draped minidress); Molly Goddard (explosive fuchsia tulle confection); and Marine Serre (moon-print bodysuit). Also newish names such as the London-based Michaela Stark (denim corset and puddling jeans), the Ivory Coast-based Loza Maléombho (graphic print gold-buttoned jacket) and the Tel Aviv-based Alon Livné (white crocheted gown). Also — well. You get the idea.
There’s not even one look per song; more like dozens. Especially when you include the dancers and special guests like Naomi Campbell and Adut Akech. I started taking notes and then gave up and just abandoned myself to the visual excess.
It’s dazzling, but also carefully calculated. Because what so much muchness means is that no single designer ever reaches critical mass; blink and you miss them as one more lavish creation strobes into the next. All of them exist to serve the vision of one woman; to elevate the imagery of Beyoncé, rather than their own.
An Ode To Sir Carter
Black is King dedicated to Beyoncé’s son, Sir Carter. It’s the answer to her visual album Lemonade, which had all women taking a deep dive into the intricacies of her emotion and growth following Jay-Z’s betrayal. It is a blueprint for decolonizing black masculinity by taking a thorough analysis into learning black history and unlearning all the negative stereotypes that define Black men in American society.
A little over an hour into “Black Is King,” Beyoncé, with tears in her eyes, places a baby boy, wrapped in a blanket, up a river inside a reed basket. Unlike the mélange of sounds — Afropop, dancehall, hip-hop, and soul — that I’d heard up to this point, the accompanying ballad, “Otherside,” was such a sonic break from the high-tempo energy that I paused the stream several times. The maternal sacrifice moved me, for even though I knew the plot of “The Lion King,” I hoped that this baby would survive the currents of the rushing river.
This is because that baby was never just a baby, and this story was never really simply the human version of Simba’s journey into manhood, much less kingship. On the surface, this river bed scene is an update of that Old Testament story in which Jochebed, the mother of Moses, placed him in the Nile River to protect him from being killed. But, the waters here also invoke the Middle Passage, with each ripple break recalling the fateful journey in which New World slavery, and America itself, was born.
AFRICA To The WORLD!
**BAH BAH BAH*
Filming in Africa and featuring African artists, Beyoncé introduces African culture to the larger Black American audience. The production is keen to feature African choreography and the colorful nature of African fashion. Beyoncé’s use of the Nigerian gele and her male guests decked to the nines is reminiscent of the Haute couture nature of Congolese Fashion. She puts on African designers with a wider market reach and the opportunity to earn more.
“With this visual album, I wanted to present elements of Black history and African tradition, with a modern twist and a universal message, and what it truly means to find your self-identity and build a legacy,” Beyoncé said in an Instagram post last June. “I spent a lot of time exploring and absorbing the lessons of past generations and the rich history of different African customs. While working on this film, there were moments where I’ve felt overwhelmed, like many others on my creative team, but it was important to create a film that instills pride and knowledge.”
Black is King boasts performances from Nigerian artists Burna Boy, Wizkid, Mr. Eazi and Tiwa Savage; Ghanian artist Shatta Wale; Malian musician Oumou Sangare, along with American rapper Tierra Whack and Canadian rapper Jessie Reyez. Yoruba culture seems to have the largest influence on the film’s visual style, music, and dress. The film is at its best with sequences like “My Power”, “Don’t Jealous Me” and “Ja Ara E” which thrust the work of Beyonce’s many Yoruba collaborators to the forefront of the narrative.
As a Nigerian-American, I believed this film to be an artistic masterpiece that beautifully highlighted the continent of Africa to the world. Unfortunately, not all Africans shared my sentiment.
As much as Beyoncé’s film celebrates Blackness in totality, some felt that Black Is King does not reflect pan-Africa. While the cultures of Nigeria and South Africa were heavily featured, Kenya, Esther’s home country, and East Africa as a region, were not represented. The original Lion King was set in East Africa, so this is ironic. As such, it would have been great to see Beyoncé include more East African cultures as well.
With this project, Beyoncé has put a conversation about Africa on the front line. It is important for artists like her and our African American cousins at large to stay connected — and keep incorporating Africa in their albums and videos.
In the end, we are one. Black Is King portrays all shades of Black and recognizes Blackness as a spectrum, acknowledging that each of its shades is royalty.