I wasn’t a big fan of 2019’s “live-action” remake of The Lion King, and I’m not one to watch music videos let alone feature-length visual albums. Still, the latest collaboration between Beyoncé and Disney is so much more than just a collection of music videos.
Black is King is an experimentative art piece similar in a sense to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982). Where Koyaanisqatsi shows the relationship between human interaction with technology and nature, Black is King is a collaborative effort which showcases Black empowerment, our histories, and our diverse culture from across the African diaspora.
It tells the story of a young African king who undergoes a journey to reclaim his throne after being cast out by his family. The story, though not completely obvious, is broken into different segments and is brought to life through song, rap, newly written poems and dialogue sampled from The Lion King (2019).
While the film is very much a passion project of Beyoncé (and dare I say magnum-opus?), the film has been lovingly created by a wide variety of talented people with multiple actors, directors and writers. This extends into the music as well because Beyoncé’s traditional soulful-style is joined together by the different music styles from across the African continent, with languages such as Xhosa and Zulu even featured.
The biggest highlight for me is the powerful “Brown Skin Girl” song which has cameo appearances from celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Rowland, who come together to celebrate their gorgeous dark skin. It’s a scene that I hope many dark-skinned Black women, who are often put down for their darker tone, will feel enriched and empowered.
If you can, I would recommend watching the film in one sitting as each musical segment blends so-well together, thanks to its stellar editing, that it would feel less like a complete voyage, should you break it up with pauses.
The cinematography is one of Black is King’s strongest points, and it’s thanks to not one but twelve cinematographers! Each contributor guides us through the story, often placing us right in the middle of the majestic set-pieces, close enough to see the intricate costumes. It all makes for a greatly immersive experience.
Despite its deep connection, Black is King is very much a standalone film in its own right and shouldn’t be considered part of The Lion King Franchise.
Disney+ has been lacking in adult-friendly content, and Black is King is a very welcome addition. It also comes at a time where Black people around the world need to feel empowered, inspired and confident about who they are, their culture and their history.
Black is King is now available on Disney+ and countries across Africa can watch it through DStv.