BeyHive, rejoice! Beyoncé’s highly-anticipated visual album, Black Is King has arrived. It's been four years since the global superstar caused a sensation when she surprise-dropped her Lemonade visual album, and she’s creating another moment with her latest cinematic masterpiece.
The full-length feature for Black Is King premiered on Disney + at midnight on Friday just after the one-year of the live action remake’s release. Ahead of its premiere, Beyoncé shared on Instagram that the Black Is King is meant to “celebrate the breadth and beauty of Black ancestry,” and acknowledged that her visual album comes at significant moment in history amid renewed conversations surrounding police brutality and racism in the U.S. sparked by the recent deaths of African American men and women amid the global coronavirus pandemic that has decimated the economy.
Helmed by her production company, Parkwood Entertainment, production for the project started last year as a companion piece to The Lion King: The Gift, which Beyoncé produced in addition to starring in the 2019 live action remake of The Lion King as Nala opposite Donald Glover’s Simba.
Clocking in at one hour and 25 minutes, Black Is King is a modern retelling of The Lion King, albeit loosely refitted to the The Gift tracklist with interludes of dialogue taken from the 2019 film interspersed throughout. Here are our seven takeaways from Black Is King.
Black Is King is a homage to the African diaspora.
From a storytelling standpoint, Black Is King takes viewers on a young African king’s journey through betrayal, love, and self-identity as his ancestors guide him along the way, much like The Lion King. But the deeper underlying message is the importance of celebrating our Blackness while honoring the ancestors that came before us and carrying on their legacy as the young king must find his own way in the world after Scar’s betrayal in order to reclaim his birthright.
What guides him is the lessons of his ancestors passed down to him through his deceased father, a tradition that still exists in African-descendent communities around the world today.
“My hope for this film is that it shifts the global perception of the word 'Black,’ which has always meant inspiration and love and strength and beauty to me,” Beyoncé explained the film’s purpose on ABC’s Good Morning America. “‘Black Is King’ means Black is regal and rich in history in purpose and in lineage.”
There are parallels to the Bible.
The film opens to a newborn baby floating down a river in a basket, hearkening to the Biblical tale of Moses. The scene then cuts to Beyoncé, dressed in an angelic white asymmetrical dress, cradling the newborn baby in her arms as waves wash along the beach. Later in the film, in the scene for “Otherside,” it is shown that Beyoncé sent the young King down the river to save his life. The scene is intercut with a voiceover from Beyoncé where she proclaims, “Child of dust, you return to the river. Your roots and your story will be reborn.” Towards the end of the film, Beyoncé invokes the name of God as she denotes, “to God we belong, to God we return.”
Jay-Z and Beyoncé are a whole mood.
Now, Jay-Z and Beyoncé have never been shy about flaunting their wealth and, fittingly, the scene for “MOOD4EVA” takes place at a gorgeous, sprawling mansion estate. The superstar couple walks through the palatial house that's filled with a bountiful collection of various African sculptures, painting, and artworks, reveling in the fruits of their labor. The scene then moves to a visual of Beyoncé surrounded by an all-female synchronized swim team outfitted in matching diamond-encrusted pink swimsuits. Then there’s her mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, along with fellow Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, looking regal at an extravagant tea party in the middle of a garden. There’s also a sequence in the garden where there’s a human chessboard and Beyonce is the centerpiece as queen. Finally, it ends with Bey and Jay kicking back and watching television.
There’s a nod to Pan-Africanism.
About halfway through Black Is King, a crowd of Black men hold up an American flag stylized in black, red, and green, which are the colors of the Pan-African flag. The scene is underscored by homage to the rich fabric of the African diaspora’s cultural heritage and ancestry from which we come from. This sentiment is reflected throughout the film through a multitude of symbolic references from the fashion and visual cues to the inclusion of languages from the African continent, and how it all connects us to one another present day.
There are a lot of celebrity cameos.
Beyoncé had already assembled a star-studded lineup of pop and hip-hop most sought after artists for The Lion King: The Gift, and, as anticipated, many of them appear in the Black is King as well. Pharrell Williams, Tiwa Savage, Shatta Wale, WizKid, Tierra Whack, Yemi Alade, and Jessie Reyez all made cameos. But the best surprise came during the “Brown Skin Girl” scene where Beyoncé and Blue Ivy are joined by fashion icon Naomi Campbell, actress Lupita Nyong’o and Kelly Rowland for a beautiful homage to Black womanhood, sisterhood and motherhood.
Black Is King was shot in locations all over the world.
Last year, footage of Beyoncé filming at the Grand Canyon surfaced online and it later turned out to be for her music video for “Spirit.” Similarly, in Black Is King there is no shortage of gorgeous scenery. The feature was filmed in locations all over the world, from London and Belgium to West Africa. Even Beyoncé's own backyard was used. “It all started in my backyard,” she told Good Morning America. “So from my house to Johannesburg to Ghana to London to Belgium to the Grand Canyon -- it was truly a journey to bring this film to life.”
Beyoncé ends Black Is King with a special message.
At the film’s conclusion, Beyoncé ends with a touching message dedicated to her and Jay-Z’s son, Sir Carter, whom she gave birth to along with his twin sister, Rumi, in July 2017. Her note reads: “Dedicated to my son, Sir Carter – and to all our sons and daughters, the sun and moon bow for you, you are the keys to the kingdom.”
(Photo: Travis Matthews)