Beyonce released her film, Black is King on Friday and the internet was aflame. Every other tweet I see on my timeline is about Black is King. The hype made me really curious and excited to see it and now that I have, I can say that I really like it.
When it was announced I thought this was going to be a movie as per one with scripts and a three-act structure and movies are my MO, it’s the whole reason I started this blog, so I was a little taken aback when I realised that it wasn’t. (I’m currently applying my clown nose as I type this and I will take that L because I should have known.)
Black is Kings tells the story of a king who is cast out by his family and goes on a journey of self-discovery as he experiences betrayal and finds love using the guidance of his ancestors and childhood love. It is quite literally the story of the Lion King, told through the music from The Gift, which was an accompanying album, released a year ago to coincide with the 2019 Lion King remake.
Firstly this film is STUNNING. I say in reviews that there are movies where you can take a screenshot of every scene and it could be a poster. This is one of those. I mean…
If I showed you every gorgeous shot in this film, we would be here all day and my blog would probably get shut down and I like it here, so I am not going to do that.
The production value is so high and I heard a rumour that Beyonce paid for this movie out of pocket and you can tell, it’s the kind of project where you can tell that care and attention went into making it, not only does each video fit the song perfectly, it carries the story along. It’s not just a bunch of videos stitched together with a thinly veiled story. I noticed after I watched it that the tracklist was changed and that is probably to streamline the narrative more. And audio from the movie was also included to advance the narrative.
I’m also going to fangirl about the fact that recognisable places in my hometown were used for the Keys to the Kingdom video (also one of my favourite songs on the album). That was the part of the film that had me engaged. There is something about seeing things that you recognise in any property you watch.
The whole video had me like this
This pretty much sums up my feelings on that song and its video.
When you then include the fact that Tiwa Savage, Tekno, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi (all Nigerian artists) are prominently featured in the film (and there is a Burna Boy Song in there he’s just not in the film) made my heart swell with pride, and I think that was the intention, to make not just me but Africans and Black people as a whole feel empowered and proud and it did.
I don’t have to talk about the Brown Skin Girl video because it’s truly special, the song is so important in showing dark-skinned women that they are loved and appreciated, and the fact that it included dark-skinned women who aren’t black shows how inclusive this film really is.
Apart from the ridiculous amount of detail in Black is King, each video has its own tone that fits the song perfectly. Keys to the Kingdom is more chill, My Power is more intense, Mood 4 Eva is a mood (see what I did there?) and Spirit and Bigger are ethereal. Each video is its own thing. They feel different while also having similar overarching themes. It shows that the film as a whole was very well planned and thought out.
Apart from the music, and visuals the amount of talent that went into this is insane. You have so many talented people from all over the continent be a part of this film. From directing to cinematography to costume and hair design. SO many black creatives were involved in this movie which makes it feel more authentic. It’s not like Beyonce came here, filmed a bunch of videos without including the people who lived here. They were part of the process and to see that and contrast it with an industry where black people are still underrepresented makes me really happy not just as a film blogger but as a someone who enjoys the medium as a fan.
When the film was announced, there was some hesitation from a lot of people expressing anger who said Beyoncé was appropriating African culture. And it’s caused a massive debate on Twitter that’s still being discussed right now. A lot of tweets like this popped up.
And honestly? Some of the criticisms were and still are valid.
To explain we’re going to have to go back a few years.
In December 2017, the Migos performed in Lagos and the show was sold out. Now I didn’t go but I have friends that did and they said it was a great show. Here’s the problem.
The Migos did an interview a few months later talking about their show and were talking about how amazing the show was, and even dropped a little tidbit about how “Their English wasn’t even that good.”
So yes, the Migos had a sold-out show halfway across the world and just HAD to drop in the fact the Nigerians don’t speak “good English.”
Statements like this one are a lot more commonplace than you think. Artists come to Nigeria to perform and post photos on their social media and I see 100s of comments like “Oh I didn’t know they even had electricity over there.” or “Wow they speak English? How did they even know the words?”And it’s hurtful. The idea that Africa is this huge landmass with no discernible features is still around. 3 years ago, someone asked me what the difference between Nigeria and Kenya… no seriously. I have endured every ignorant question you can imagine.
And suddenly, it became, “I want to go back to Lagos in December because the parties look insane!” and “I love Afrobeat.” and “I want to rep the motherland”. When Black Panther came out, suddenly everyone had a connection to the continent. And while I have no problem with people discovering their roots and their ancestry it can also feel inauthentic. People want the culture and the food and parties but don’t actually see us a people. We’re an aesthetic to them. It’s either we have nice clothes and cool music or we’re all impoverished and live in huts (yes some people think ALL Africans like that, some do but not all of us) Africa is a huge continent (the second largest) with over 50 countries, thousands of languages and cultures. We are not all the same. You cannot use umbrella terms to describe the continent. and for the last time, AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY.
I saw this clip from Mixed-ish last year and the first part made me roll my eyes.
I rolled my eyes because Rainbow’s mum is perpetuating the idea that firstly, Nigerians would ever eat Fufu and Jollof Rice on the same plate (no they are two separate meals and 5-minute google search would have shown that) and secondly, that we were all kings and queens before colonisation (an idea that people seem to have run with) and it’s not particularly correct. Yes, there were kingdoms but not everyone was royalty. Think of it like Europe. Each country had a monarchy but not every French, Spanish or British person is part of the royal family in their respective countries.
Again people discovering their roots and being proud of it is a good thing but this idea that Africa is a large kingdom where we’re all kings and queens is not what it means to be African and hasn’t been for a while. And the fact that people are suddenly realising that we have a rich culture outside what you know, after years of treating us like we are less than because of a Beyoncé film has me giving people side-eye. Here are a few tweets that explain what I’m trying to say more succinctly.
I saw this tweet as I was writing this review and no joke my eyes almost rolled into the back of my head.
It could be a joke, but do you see why people were a bit jarred by this film?
There’s also the fact that we are largely ignored when it comes to tours. Numerous artists will go on a “world tour” but overlook the continent and Beyoncé is no exception, yes she’s performed in Nigeria before (well over a decade ago) and was at Global Citizen in South Africa last year (the show looked amazing) but she doesn’t tour here. And I hope that will change.
Another reason why I was a little jarred at the announcement of Black is King is its initial release. When the first trailer came out, it stated that the film was a Disney Plus exclusive which pissed off a lot of people because Disney Plus isn’t available here. I remember saying to my brother “it’s a film celebrating Africa but I can’t watch it here.” Luckily I retracted that statement when I found out that it was going to be distributed here. And for that, I give Beyoncé and the Parkwood team ALL of my respect because they made sure we were able to watch it, I’m don’t know if someone else would have done that.
Now back to Black is King. Does it fix all the issues addressed? Of course not, and it’s not supposed to. It a visual album supposed to showcase African talent and it succeeds in doing that. Hearing so many people from all over the continent say things like “I was the Director of Photography” or “I did the hair” or “I designed the costumes.” Shows that Beyoncé and the Parkwood team really went out of their way to find African talent. It’s Africa through the lens of someone who isn’t African but is trying to show more than you see. And I’m not 100% mad at it.
I didn’t review this immediately after I saw it because I needed to sleep on it. (quite literally) And after giving it some thought I enjoyed it a lot. Beyoncé had me dancing to songs I’ve listened to religiously for a year. No joke, I listen to JA ARA E every day (as I typed that sentence I went to go a listen to it), it’s the best song on the album but y’all ain’t ready for that conversation yet. Just going to leave it here.
JA ARA E by Burna Boy
Song · 3:10 · 2019 · Available with an Apple Music subscription. Try it free.
Barring the fact that I thought it was a movie rather than a visual album that tells a story, I really enjoyed it. It’s absolutely stunning with gorgeous visuals and you can tell that attention and care were put into making it. It’s a love letter to The continent and while it does support the kings and queens narrative it does so through the lens of The Lion King, a movie that has King in the title. And honestly? I’d rather people use this film as a way to see Africa and its people as more than what we’ve been perceived as for the past 30 odd years. There is actually a video of Beyonce explaining what the film is about and after watching it, I’m not as jarred as I was when I first heard of the film and I think there a few people who feel that way.
Seeing such a diverse group of black people and other people of colour, all with different skin tones and body types from all over the world, be celebrated is something that isn’t commonplace. I’m happy it has started a conversation and I really hope some more positive representation of African people and black people as a whole comes out of this because there is so much more to us if you just take the time to look. We have a rich culture both past and present, and it’s present in Black is King.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to listen to The Gift on repeat for the next 3 weeks.
Originally published at https://www.thecinematicaficionado.com on August 2, 2020.