With the current state of the world these days, there may not have been a better time for Beyoncé to release Black is King, her feature film directorial debut. (She’s no stranger to the director’s chair, though, having helmed more than a dozen of her own music videos plus the 2016 long-form Lemonade film.) The video companion to her 2019 concept album The Lion King: The Gift, the Disney+ original Black is King is not simply a love letter to her race but an uplifting visual journey that is as close to required viewing as you can get.
Featuring not only Beyoncé’s family (husband Jay-Z and daughter Blue Ivy figure prominently, and the film is dedicated to her three-year-old son Sir), the film also includes a wealth of African talent, including Ghanaian rapper Shatta Wale, Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage, and Cameroonian songwriter Salatiel. Shot on location around the world in stunning locales like Johannesburg, the Grand Canyon, and Nigeria, (to name a few), Black is King is a celebration of Black history and heritage, presented as only Queen Bey could.
The series of vignettes run the gamut from its Biblically-inspired opening (“Bigger”) to a surrealistic, 2001-ish outer space odyssey (“Find Your Way Back”) to even a Busby Berkeley-esque dance number (“Mood 4 Eva”), and all of it is set to Beyoncé’s music, which features the likes of Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and Pharrell Williams. Shot in a dazzling combination of stunning HD and 16 mm film stock, Black is King feels simultaneously like a Knowles-Carter home movie and a sweeping panoramic travelogue, brilliant not only in its beauty but also its importance to Black (nay, global) heritage.
Along with the hefty message and anthropologic pride, Black is King sets aside plenty of time for some fun, lighthearted moments, too. It’s impossible not to feel a tingle in “Brown Skin Girl” as Lupita Nyong’o lip-syncs her own name-check (“Pretty like Lupita when the cameras close in”) or in the very next frame as Beyoncé’s former bandmate Kelly Rowland pops up with a smile and a hug for her old friend.
Beyoncé not only directs and stars in the film but also wrote it (along with most of the music) and served as executive producer; it is clearly her vision from start to finish (though aided by her longtime collaborator and Ghanian filmmaker Kwasi Fordjour, who is given co-director credit). Black is King is as singularly important as any film to be released in recent months—not only a visual (and audio) feast but a masterpiece of inspiration and a bastion for the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s almost impossible to imagine a youngster not feeling a huge sense of empowerment hearing, “Brown skin girl / Your skin just like pearls / The best thing in the world”. Long live the Queen.