Beyoncé’s Black Is King is finally available on Disney Plus, after weeks of anticipation, and it delivered what we needed — a bright spot in the midst of dark times. The 90-minute film is a love letter to the diaspora steeped in hope, power and Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism explores Black identity through art, culture, technology and resistance, with the ultimate goal of liberation. Beyoncé’s cinematically stunning film channels the Lion King, Coming to America, African spirituality, African dance, Black American revolution and more to send a message that Black is beautiful — not just physically, but in all of its nuances.
Black is King was filmed over the course of a year in various locations such as Ghana, London, Belgium, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, and Johannesburg to create this visually stunning masterpiece filmed as a companion piece to The lion King: The Gift soundtrack and while Bey couldn’t have predicted what type of year this would have been, her messaging is on time.
“I could never have imagined that a year later, all the hard work that went into this production would serve a greater purpose. The events of 2020 have made the film’s vision and message even more relevant, as people across the world embark on a historic journey,” Beyoncé wrote on Instagram. “We are all in search of safety and light. Many of us want change. I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books.”
And she had help from a global pool of Black talent.
Beyoncé tapped Warsan Shire for poetry, and Clover Hope, Ysra Daley-Ward, and Andrew Morrow to co-write, while Blitz Bazawule (The Burial of Kojo), Ibra Ake (creative director and producer on “This is America” video for Childish Gambino), Jake Nava (“Crazy in Love,” “Single Ladies,” “Partition” videos), Kwasi Fordjour, Derek Milton, and Joshua Kissi were on board as co-directors.
Appearances by Jay-Z, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, Childish Gambino, Tina Lawson, Rumi Carter, Sir Carter, Shatta Wale, Wizkid, Tierra Whack, Moonchild Sanelly, Pharrell, Blue Ivy (who was the star of the show), and more were an added bonus to the reminder of what Black excellence looks like.
It was an extravaganza, and as expected, Beyoncé served goddess energy, womanhood, bawdy, dance, hair, and couture. My reaction to this was one of joy, and inspiration. The best way I can describe this feeling is likening it back to my very first time visiting the Motherland. I went to Ghana solo, and didn’t know what to expect. But when I got there, I was aroused by the sights, sounds, and frenetic energy. It wasn’t what I was used to, but there was a cosmic pull — probably the ancestors — that calmed me. The sights and sounds weren’t what I was used to coming from the western world, but as I experienced the local culture in various parts of the country, things about the diaspora started to make sense. Everything about the boldness in how we dress, our expressions, the way we talk, move and somehow still manage to keep going despite the attempts to break us came full circle.
Black people around the world are still reeling from and dealing with the effects of colonialism and all the isms that stem from it. Yet despite that struggle we rise, and we are protected by the divine power of the ancestors. That is a major take away from Black is King. This is a movie that needs to be watched more than once, and discussed with each other because there is a lot of symbolism that will probably be missed.
However, here are some quick takeaways worth exploring.
The Beauty in Blackness
It’s obvious that this was a visual representation of the phrase, “Black is beautiful.” From the dark skinned people who were present in abundance, lit correctly under highly meticulous cinematography, to the references to nature and water — think Fela Kuti’s “Water Get no Enemy.” Water is needed to sustain life, to produce life; water can be calm and serene, water can be volatile. Water gives life and can take it away. It’s ever flowing, and ever shifting like our journeys in life but it’s always necessary. Like water, the world needs Black people because without our contributions to history and culture, things would be very different.
Blue Ivy is a star. That’s it. She’s a stunner and she is coming for her mama’s spot! Watch out world!
There are so many details to see, even smaller nuances that might go over looked. For example, Beyoncé used the original version of “Mbube” in the scene that was a nod to “Coming to America.” The original creators of the song never got their just due. It’s a song that has been appropriated and its originators forgotten, so the fact that Bey used the original shouldn’t be lost on any of us. This is something that South African – American musician Yolanda Sangweni breaks down well in the following twitter thread:
The film also uses clips from The Lion King to help transition the story as Simba goes on his journey. There are depictions of Timon and Puma living in luxury, the hyenas are presented as a devilish biker crew. It’s The Lion King, but with people, and high fashion. It’s Black people in luxury, Black people in struggle, and Black people in victory.
You will find some of the simplest, most profound quotables throughout this entire film. We start with, “A journey is a gift,” and in a lot of ways, it is. When you go on a journey, you learn a lot during the process, and those experiences can inform where you’re going. When you look at the Black experience around the world, that history has informed what moves to make in the future. It’s never ending.
At another point in the film Bey says, “We orbit, make joy look easy.” Black joy runs deep because it’s well earned. But just because we may smile and laugh doesn’t mean there isn’t pain.
There are a lot more, but we’ll stop there for the sake of brevity.
Once again, Black is beautiful. Black bodies are worthy of life, love, celebration, friendship, joy, freedom, existence and all the good things in life. Despite our struggles, we’ve been through enough to have hope for future generations because we learn from past mistakes and transgressions, how to make life better.
Again, this is how Beyoncé’s does Afrofuturism. She doesn’t preach. She lets her art speak for itself and people can interpret as they see fit.
Personally, I could use a lot more inspiration like this.