Beyoncé‎’s Black Is King is an instantly iconic visual album

Beyoncé in “Mood 4 Eva” from the visual album BLACK IS KING on Disney+
Beyoncé in “Mood 4 Eva” from the visual album BLACK IS KING on Disney+ /

In collaboration with Disney+ as a partial tie-in to The Lion King, Beyoncé‎’s Black Is King is an utterly breathtaking and instantly iconic visual album.

Just north of over a year since she released The Lion King: The Gift, a concept album inspired by (and tied into) Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King, in which she played Nala, Beyoncé has broken the internet yet again with the release of Black Is King, a visual album that both celebrates Black history and culture, as well as further cements Beyoncé as a cultural tour-de-force.

The film pulls double duty as both a spiritual successor to The Lion King — a sort of reinterpretation (albeit a very abstract one) of the film’s story, as well as a creative outlet for Knowles-Carter to visualize and externalize the Black experience, her journey of self-love, and her message of empowerment.

From a narrative standpoint, we’re a little conflicted about how to approach Black Is King. On the one hand, this is clearly a passion project of Beyoncé’s, and it shows in the raw emotion that’s infused into the film’s core. However, the clips of dialogue from The Lion King that are dispersed throughout are incredibly jarring and not only take us out of the atmosphere of the film, but also make the entire thing come off as much less genuine.

Of course, we’re glad that Beyoncé was able to essentially use Disney’s endless pockets to fund a celebration of Black excellence, but then Seth Rogen starts saying Hakuna Matata, and we’re completely dragged away from whatever each song was trying to say. It’s odd because we can envision a reality where the story of The Lion King interpreted by Beyoncé would make an amazing film, but the random clips from the Disney remake thrust in at steady intervals really detract from our enjoyment of The Lion King aspects of the film.

However, The Lion King is thankfully only one small part of the film, and on the whole, Black Is King spends much more time creating a world decorated with lavish visuals, and bringing to life the songs from Beyoncé’s The Gift album. It’s this side of the film that stayed with us long after the film was over, as well as the one that made us laugh and brought us to tears.

Although she’s hardly new to the industry, considering that this is Beyoncé’s first time as a full-on director, it’s an incredibly impressive showing. While the songs vary wildly in terms of tone, tempo, and visuals, there is still a sense of cohesion and a steady through-line that makes it so the viewer can immediately tell that the entire thing came from the mind of one woman.

That aforementioned steady through-line is a visualization, exploration, and celebration of the Black experience. The film is a journey across the planet, as well as through time, and draws inspiration from dozens of different cultures to tell its story. The film begins in ancient history and is decorated with lavish masks and grandiose storytelling, and slowly begins to ground itself in more current imagery while never losing that massive, all-encompassing scale.

The true magic in Black Is King, though, is how Beyoncé never loses sight of her message, even with the massive scope and budget of the film. It would’ve been easy to get lost in the power of having Disney’s infinitely deep pockets behind your project, but Knowles-Carter keeps things in the family for a vast majority of the film: Her husband, children, and close friends make appearances of the course of it, and there’s a sense of warmth and familiarity that could never be engineered without pre-existing relationships.

Although the love between Beyoncé and all of the featured artists on the album shines through in every song, the film’s crown jewel is without a doubt “Brown Skin Girl.” It’s a joyful, celebratory song on its own, but the cameos of celebrated women like Naomi Campbell, Lupita N’yongo, and Kelly Rowland (among many others) move it beyond just a celebration and into something else entirely. There’s a raw emotion present in the way that they interact with the camera, something that only Beyoncé could pull with such powerful women.

Black Is King‘s best moments can all be traced back to Beyoncé’s presence both behind and in front of the camea. She’s infused into the very essence of the project, and it’s her painstaking attention to detail and astounding sense of aesthetics and storytelling that make the film so memorable.

It would certainly rock the film industry, but we can’t help but hope that awards season does right by Black Is King: It’s a gorgeous film both literally and figuratively, and deserves to be celebrated the same way that it celebrates Black identity. Although at times the more commercial aspects of the Disney/Lion King tie-in detract from the film’s sincerity, Black Is King is a jaw-dropping debut from Beyoncé, and a visual album unlike any other.

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