All Queen hail Bey
Everything you need to know about Beyonce’s Black Is King
Beyonce Knowles-Carter released Black Is King in the wee hours of Friday morning last week, roughly one month after publicly announcing she had shot a companion piece to her original music released alongside the liveaction Lion King film last year. The new visual album, streaming on Disney+, is “meant to celebrate the breadth and beauty of Black ancestry,” she stated in that announcement.
The singer researched and worked on the project over the course of a year, collaborating with other Black artists across the globe. She joined forces with numerous directors to shoot music videos for the tracks from The Lion King: The
Gift, and enlisted some of the Nigerian, South African, Ghanaian, Cameroonian and American artists featured in the music to appear in its visual counterpart as well.
For those who haven’t yet caught Black Is King, here’s what to know about Beyonce’s latest work.
What is Black Is King?
Black Is King is Beyonce’s latest visual album, a tapestry of music videos for The Lion
King: The Gift, an album accompanying last year’s live-action film. The 85-minute piece draws from the reimagined Disney classic both in its story, loosely following a young boy’s maturation and search for identity, and in the literal sense, featuring voice-overs from Mufasa, Simba and other characters in the movie.
The visual album, which was shot in locales across the world — Disney lists South Africa, Belgium and West African countries, as well as New York, Los Angeles and London — explores the meaning of legacy and celebrates cultures and customs that bring the Black diaspora together. “Black is the colour of my true love’s skin,” Beyonce says early on. “Coils and hair catching centuries of prayers spread through a smoke.
You are welcome to come home to yourself.
Let Black be synonymous with glory.” Certain moments focus on the Black-American experience, such as the inclusion of an American flag with its stars and stripes repainted in black, red and green — colours from the Pan-African flag. At one point, a male voiceover comments on an identity struggle experienced by the American descendants of enslaved people from Africa: “When it’s all said and done, I don’t even know my own native tongue,” he says. “And if I can’t speak myself, I can’t think myself. And if I can’t think myself, I can’t be myself. But if I can’t be myself, I will never know me. So, Uncle Sam, tell me this: If
I will never know me, how can you?”
How can I watch it?
Black Is King is streaming on Disney+.
Did we know this was happening?
Yes. Beyonce uploaded a minute-long trailer for Black
Is King alongside the June announcement, in which she wrote that “the events of 2020 have made the film’s vision and message even more relevant.” The lead-up to
Black Is King strays from what has become the norm for
Beyonce, an artist who, since surprise-dropping her selftitled album in 2013, has tended to shroud her work in secrecy. The visual albums for Beyonce and 2016’s
Lemonade have been credited with revolutionizing how the music industry approaches releases.
Who else had a hand in creating visual album?
While Beyonce is the first director to appear in the credits for Black Is King, she is joined by several others, including Emmanuel Adjei, Blitz Bazawule, Pierre Debusschere, Jenn Nkiru, Ibra Ake, Dikayl Rimmasch, Jake Nava and Kwasi Fordjour, the last of whom she has collaborated with many times before. (Fordjour and two others, Dafe Oboro and Julian Klincewicz, are described as co-directors.) Black Is King is a family affair. Beyonce’s husband, Jay-Z, is featured on
MOOD 4 EVA and shows up for that portion of the visual album. Their elder daughter, Blue Ivy, appears throughout — most memorably during
BROWN SKIN GIRL, standing alongside her mother, little sister Rumi and grandmother Tina Knowles-Lawson. The entire film is dedicated to Sir Carter, Rumi’s twin brother. Celebrities Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell and Kelly Rowland also appear for
BROWN SKIN GIRL.
How has it been received so far?
There was some backlash to
Black Is King before its release, most of which characterized the depictions of the different African cultures as stereotypical. Beyonce’s mother defended her daughter on Instagram, sharing another post describing the research Beyonce did for the project.
On the whole, however, public reaction to Black Is
King seems to be as positive as one might have expected. Writing for The Guardian,
Chante Joseph gave the “love song to the Black diaspora” four out of five stars, saying it was worth the wait. Jeremy Helligar stated in Variety that, while it isn’t perfect, the film “excels as a celebration of Blackness in its many forms: Black women, Black men, Black children, Black motherhood, Black fatherhood, Black pasts, Black presents, and Black futures.” Singer Adele also showed her appreciation, twinning with Beyonce on Instagram and writing, “Thank you Queen for always making us all feel so loved through your art.”
Beyonce’s new visual album Black Is King is a companion piece to the music she released alongside the live-action The Lion King movie last year.