Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Declares the Magnificence of Blackness
The Disney+ film, inspired by Beyoncé's album 'Lion King: The Gift,' is gorgeously and unapologetically Black.
Perhaps the most wholesome content that has hit streaming services recently, Black Is King -- the visual album written, directed, and executive-produced by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter -- finally arrived on Disney+ this past Friday. It comes during a summer of boiling racial tensions and highly publicized accounts of police brutality, when many people remain shocked, hurt, and furious from the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and far too many others. Inspired by the music from Beyoncé’s curated movie companion The Lion King: The Gift, Black Is King aims to reimagine the lessons from The Lion King as a contextualization of the Black experience, making for a timely take on self-realization, power, and pride for today’s Black youth.
The film is undoubtedly an easy sell for Disney’s fledgling streaming service -- basically anything Beyoncé’s name is attached to will do that -- but Black Is King is unlike anything that you’d expect to come out of the House of Mouse, let alone find on Disney+. From an almost entirely afrocentric cast and its positive depiction of African religions to its TV-14 rating and the intellectual social commentary sprinkled between songs, Black Is King is an unapologetic declaration of the magnificence of Blackness, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Gorgeous visuals inject life into tunes from The Lion King: The Gift, including well-known songs like “Brown Skin Girl” and “Mood 4 Eva,” as well as lowkey cuts like “Scar” and “Bigger,” and the transitional monologues -- which boast powerful quotes courtesy of celebrities such as Tierra Whack, Jay-Z, and LeBron James -- belong plastered on the walls in every Black home around the world. Takeouts like “You can’t wear a crown with your head down,” and “We have always been wonderful. I see us reflected in the world’s most heavenly things” are downright unforgettable, but beneath the intricate choreography and heart-warming performances, the film is actually at its most impressive and most meaningful when Beyoncé is exploring connections between themes from The Lion King and several layers of the Black experience.
In Black Is King, the dialogue between a younger Simba (JD McCrary), Timon (Billy Eichner), and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) that serves as the intro to “Hakuna Matata” loses its whimsy and now rings as a call to protest the injustices of the world, and while the banter between Rafiki (John Kani) and an older Simba (Donald Glover) still makes for a potent dose of inspiration, it also opens viewers to the cruel reality that many people of African descent can’t fully trace their roots and learn about the identities of their ancestors.
Apart from an unevenly paced 85-minute runtime, Black Is King does have one glaring flaw: an over-fixation on the Black man. For a movie hoping to help young kings and queens find their crowns, it seems satisfied with only making sure that rising kings assume their rightful place. Black women and trans women have historically played integral roles in advocating for Black communities across the globe, so the lack of focus on the female experience -- past one or two positive monologues about Black women and an inarguably dynamic performance of “Brown Skin Girl” -- in this tale of self-discovery is a tasteless and possibly harmful oversight, especially in a film that is so rooted in intention.
Nevertheless, every Black child deserves to grow up in a world with films like Black Is King. A visual album worth deconstruction past all of the early reviews popping up on the internet and social media, Disney’s collaboration with Beyoncé is the poster child for positively portraying Black bodies and cultures in Hollywood. More movies and shows like this are mandatory if history is to remember the events of 2020 as a revolutionary spark rather than a faded memory, but until then, Black Is King is the visually appealing, sonically ravishing, and thought-provoking spiritual refresher that we could use right about now.
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