Beyonce shows us the elements in her subjective understanding of the African perspective. An indigo, starry sky reflects itself into water, trees framing an elder and a young Simba (JD McCrary). Through voice overs she quotes Warsan Shire. She splices that with the voice of Mufasa (James Earl Jones), imparting lessons onto the Simbas of the world.
Black is King is, as everyone knows, a companion piece to The Lion King: The Gift. But in adapting the Disney film using new music and visuals, Beyonce and her collaborators make left field choices. They make this version of Simba’s journey back home memorable. Some of those stops have hyenas, Jessie Reyez standing in for one. She rules a jungle that’s godless, a quality that, strangely enough, the film doesn’t portray negatively.
What’s particularly interesting in this film is its multiple Simbas. During one interlude, young Simba rides a car that ends up on a mansion. When he gets out of the car he turns into Jay-Z, a transfiguration that makes for a particularly Freudian goldmine. The symbolism here is bizarre, but Beyonce has done stuff like this before.
Jay-Z’s appearance in Black is King also might make some audiences lead to assumptions. That Beyonce is proposing affluence as the end game. But again, symbols throw a wrench in this idea. For instance, the mansion has a painting of her as the Virgin Mary and as Marie Antoinette. Detractors might see the comparison as egoistic until they realize that all three have lost their children. This is still, after all, a re-imagining of The Lion King, a meditation on eventualities. On the coexistence of territorial gain and familial loss.
This visual album, has images of both life and decay. Beyonce thus bares her thoughts on the separate journeys she and her children take. Both parties discover their identities as Black people one way or another. It’s as if she’s readying herself for when those separations might occur. But those journeys aren’t always separate. Nyaniso Dzedze stands for another adult Simba, a prominent presence in the film.
This visual album has references both African and Euro-American, and she plays around with the latter. The segment for Brown Skinned Girl takes place in a Southern debutante balls. The girls and women here wear gowns that are the film’s most costume-y outfits, a comment on western artificiality. But the song shows how Brown women can get affirmations even in a society that seems fake.
Beyonce, then, oscillates, transitioning from Western artificiality and eventually arrives to the nature within Africa. Otherside has the film’s most dramatic contrasts, ending, as The Lion King does, with bountiful triumph.
Black is King says a lot about these polarities. It also touches on topics like spirituality and kingship that some people might disagree with. But the images here make enough and more to build a rich text.
Stream Black is King on Disney+.
- Rated: TV-14
- Genre: Adventure, Drama, fantasy, Music
- Release Date: 7/31/2020
- Directed by: Beyonce, Blitz Bazawule, Emmanuel Adjei, Jake Nava
- Starring: Beyonce, Jay-Z, JD McCrary, Jessie Reyez, Nyaniso Dzedze
- Produced by: Beyoncé, Blitz Bazawule, Jimi Adesanya, Sylvia M. Zakhary
- Written by: Andrew Morrow, Beyonce, Warsan Shire, Yrsa Daley-Ward
- Studio: Parkwood Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures