When the trailer for ‘Black Is King’ first emerged, many were excited, but of course, in true social media fashion, detractors were the first to question the intent behind the visual feature. First, it was Disney+ isn’t even accessible in Africa, so why premier it on this platform? The simple answer is it’s based on Beyoncé’s ‘The Lion King’ affiliated album ‘The Gift’, so of course, it would be hosted on their platform. Then it was Beyoncé hasn’t done a show in Africa for over a decade, so why now does she have this sudden fascination with African culture? I adored Beyoncé’s last visual triumph, ‘Lemonade’, so was willing to set aside some of the detractor’s concerns and trust that it would be a stunning display with no menacing intent behind it.
Having been starved of a rich, African portrayal in mainstream media, I was glad to see someone attempting to change the tune we have come accustomed to hearing when it comes to what we think, know, or see about Africa. Especially because of the current social climate. Those who are from Africa know that its history and what it has to offer is and has always been more than adverts of starving children and impoverished lands. Those who aren’t and whose image has been tainted by these portrayals, and who have questioned that Black is excellence, have needed something to change that perception. And although in no way does ‘Black Is King’ pander to a white or Eurocentric audience, it makes that fact undeniable.
People attribute Beyoncé’s success to the fact that she is a more palatable type of Black woman. Regardless of your opinion on this, Beyoncé has decided to use her high standing to show the world that Black is more than stereotypes, preconceptions, and hardship.
‘Black Is King’ is a stunning portrayal of what it means and what it can be like being Black when you are in a place where you’re designed to thrive, not to fail. From the opening scene to the final credits, Beyoncé takes us on a vibrant, emotive journey filled with splendour and awe, as she retells the reimagined story of Simba, with real-life obstacles that young Black men and women can see themselves overcome.
Each song carries the story in perfect harmony and doesn’t once feel like Beyoncé is overcompensating or pandering to a white, westernised audience. This is something that we can see lacking in the representation of Black people in movie culture. The antidote to this is simple. When making a film or series about Black people, it’s not enough to have them on-screen; they need to be behind the scenes and integrated into the creative process, and ‘Black Is King’ does just that. It was co-directed by Kwasi Fordjour, featured poetry by Warsan Shire and saw Beyoncé have a credit in all the crucial elements of a production where appropriate representation is the legs the whole project stands on.
How ‘Black Is King’ reinvents the obstacles of animated Simba and gives them real-life application is well thought out. Scar is portrayed as a Kingpin of sorts, the hyenas are a biker gang, and the paradise that Simba finds solace in with Timon and Pumbaa is an indulgent mansion filled to the brim was African art and wealth that is the visual backdrop for ‘MOOD 4 EVA’.
It was clear from the beginning that ‘‘Black Is King’’ was a celebration of blackness and Black excellence for both sexes. Still, I couldn’t help appreciating the visual representation of ‘Brown Skin Girl’ which featured Blue Ivy, Kelly Rowland, Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell and Adut Akech. This ode to the dark-skinned woman touched on colourism in a simple but effective way. We all saw for years how Kelly Rowland was pitted against Beyoncé regarding her appeal. This sequence showed a much-needed unification that was touching as well as a reminder that the conversation of colourism is one that is far from settled.
Beyoncé has cultivated a real talent for the visual album: first ‘Beyoncé’ then ‘Lemonade’, and now ‘Black Is King’ where she flawlessly embodied femininity, strength, and style by wearing over 60 different outfits that elevated the story and made a feast for the eyes.
‘Black Is King’ reminds us that in these dark times where Black people are in this limbo, fighting for justice and a more promising future, that we have power, strength and beauty. And for those who have this feeling of loss or disconnection to their roots, that strength and beauty will be present within us forever.
‘Black Is King’ is now available on Disney+ and ‘The Gift’ album is on all major streaming apps.