Pop royalty Beyoncé released her much-hyped visual album Black Is King, an aesthetically ambitious video billed as a companion to her 2019 album of songs inspired by Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King.
The highly stylised visual narrative released on the Disney Plus streaming platform runs an hour and 25 minutes and, akin to The Lion King, tells the story of a young boy who navigates an onerous world, finding himself far from his family.
The work is an ode to the black experience rife with vibrant imagery celebrating the African diaspora, an aesthetic exploration of black history, power and success that also references colonialism, economic disparity and racism.
Beyoncé had described the work as a “labour of love,” that now serves “a greater purpose” than its original role as a companion piece to The Lion King: The Gift, given the current sociopolitical climate.
Mass anti-racism protests ignited following the police killing of a black man, George Floyd, in May as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the United States, disproportionately infecting people of colour.
“Many of us want change,” Beyoncé wrote on Instagram, rare personal words from the guarded celebrity.
“I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our real history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books.”
Powered by lush visuals and Beyoncé’s soaring vocals, “Black Is King” places heavy emphasis on notions of family and motherhood along with more philosophical threads of origin and legacy.
A-listers including the superstar’s hip hop mogul husband Jay-Z, actress Lupita Nyong’o, jack-of-all-trades Pharrell Williams and model Naomi Campbell all feature in the production.
Beyoncé’s mother Tina Knowles-Lawson and former Destiny’s Child bandmate Kelly Rowland also make appearances, as well as daughter Blue Ivy and rare footage of her twins, Rumi Carter and Sir Carter.
The film follows Beyoncé’s venerated 2016 visual album “Lemonade,” which emphasised black womanhood against the backdrop of America’s heritage of slavery and culture of oppression.
Since that Grammy-winning work Beyoncé has prized the visual at the forefront of her art, no longer focused on dominating the pop charts.
Simultaneously one of music’s most private but most-watched stars, the 38-year-old uses her massive social media platform to curate her image and promote her work imbued with broad social commentary on topics including gender and race.
But Beyoncé also has faced criticism, especially from outside the United States, for deploying what some call stereotypical visuals of “African tradition” — face paint and feathers, for example.
Many social media users noted that Disney Plus is not accessible in African nations, and that while Beyoncé has performed some shows on the continent, her tours haven’t included dates there in years.
“Someone with the range must unpack how our beloved queen Beyonce is reducing blackness and Africanness to aesthetics and the western imaginations of our existence,” tweeted one user, Paballo Chauke.
“They must also speak about how it’s now profitable to do such gimmicks.”
Still, the Bey Hive — Beyoncé’s legion of ardent fans — voiced elation over the release of Black Is King, which quickly became a top trending hashtag.
(Main and featured image: Beyoncé/Facebook)