Black Is King: a Visual Album by Beyoncé
Written by Nalini Deonarine on August 1, 2020
As the opening credits roll, a voiceover of a man begins saying “I feel like I’m not a king yet”. Over the course of roughly ninety minutes viewers are taken on a journey as they watch a boy turn into a king. Along the way, we are accompanied by Black history, heritage, and sounds that teach the world about what exactly it means to be Black.
Black Is King is a visual album and an accompaniment to Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift from 2019. It is something she has referred to as her “passion project”. The film was released on July 31st and is available for streaming exclusively on Disney Plus. The story in the film mimics that of Disney’s The Lion King (1994/2019), expect with a modern-day cast: a young boy is forced into exile after a tragic accident, and uses the guidance of his ancestors and allies to reclaim his throne and overcome his adversaries.
The soundtrack is taken from The Lion King: The Gift, a companion to the remake’s official soundtrack. The 27-track album features well known Black American singers like Pharrell Williams, JAY-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino, and artists from all over the African continent like Yemi Alade, Shatta Wale, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, and countless others. There are even guest appearances made by Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell, and Blue Ivy, Rumi, and Sir Carter.
The almost entirely Black cast emphasizes that the film is meant to be told through the eyes of the people represented in it. More than that, its a story of the young king and his ancestral roots in Africa; an Africa before Europeans arrived–as the film portrays it–is rich in a culture that Beyoncé is trying to revive. Jeremy Helligar from Variety has even said that “this version of Blackness…has little to do with white.”
It’s raw. It’s earthy. It’s real.– Jeremy Helligar, Variety
Helligar’s words seemingly ring true throughout the film. Beyoncé’s visual album does not shy away from teaching the importance of Black kinship, Black lineage, Black faith, and Black past, present, and future. Each king and queen that watches the film should embrace what their Blackness is, as the film’s title song “Bigger” says: you’re part of something way bigger.