Beyoncé’s Black Is King visual album embraces Afrofuturism

THE LION KING - (L-R) Nala and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Photo by Kwaku Alston. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
THE LION KING - (L-R) Nala and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Photo by Kwaku Alston. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Beyoncé’s Black Is King is a universal story told through the lens of Afrofuturism.

When we think of the future, we look to the past and the circumstances of our present to inform our imaginings. Afrofuturism is a means of focusing that lens through the perspective of the African diaspora. It is a mixture of fantasy and science-fiction hinged on the hope of significant progress, advancement, and joy for the future of Black people. Defined as a cultural movement, it make sense that Beyoncé would embrace this medium in her visual album, Black Is King.

When I watched the trailer for Black Is King, my immediate thought was of N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? — not due to similar storytelling, but because of the preoccupation with the future told through the voices and experiences of Black people. It is all too common in the genres of science-fiction and fantasy for people of color to be left out of the narrative. Afrofuturism corrects this erasure by putting the future in the hands of Black characters.

Watch the trailer for Black Is King here:

The trailer for Black Is King opens with the sun, moon, and stars circling as a young Black child floats in space and Beyoncé narrates, “You who were formed by the heat of the galaxy. What a thing to be both unique and familiar. To be one and the same and still unlike any other.”

It’s a stunning image — one reminiscent of the claim that humans are made of stardust — and it introduces us into a world where children fall from the heavens like meteors. A place similar to our own in setting and configuration but off-kilter and strange.

According to Disney and Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment:

"“Black Is King is a celebratory memoir for the world on the Black experience. The film is a story for the ages that informs and rebuilds the present. A reunion of cultures and shared generational beliefs. A story of how the people left most broken have an extraordinary gift and a purposeful future.”"

But do not expect Black Is King to be a note for note retelling of The Lion King with human characters and songs from Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift. Rather the film is meant to pay homage to the journey each young person must make through the trials, tribulations, and triumphs in their quest for self-identity and discovery.

Though as universal as the story of Black Is King is, it’s also a love letter to Black families focused on the particular journey of a young Black king who must rely on his ancestors, his father’s teachings, and his love to help him navigate the perils in his path to reclaim his throne. It’s a treacherous road he must walk, but its purpose is meant to cement the future of his legacy.

Black Is King promises to be loud in its celebration of Blackness from its representation of different skin tones, cultures, forms of dance and art, as well as colorful in its characters, fashions, and means of storytelling. It is an event with the potential to be as grandiose and conversation starting as Beyoncé’s previous projects: Beyoncé, Lemonade, and Homecoming.

Beyoncé wrote, directed, and executive produced Black Is King. Her co-directors and second unit directors were: Meji Alabi, Joshua Kissi, Julian Klincewicz, Derek Milton, Alexandrre Moors, Dafe Oboro, and Deon Van Zyl. Viewers will be taken on a journey through locations in Belgium, London, Los Angeles, New York, South Africa, and West Africa.

Black Is King will premiere July 31 on Disney+ and be released through MultiChoice Group’s M-Net and Canal+ Afrique via a distribution deal that will see the film brought to Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

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