It was the (pop) cultural event of this weekend. On Friday, Disney + unveiled Black is King, a long-awaited feature film by Beyoncé fans. The American super-star signs the production of the film, which accompanies her album The Lion King: The Gift, released last year.
The disc, inspired by the Disney remake The Lion King (in which Beyoncé lent her voice to Nala), resonated as a tribute to African culture and its heritage within the African American community. Black Is King is its visual counterpart, and fulfills the same mission. This tale takes up the theme of Lion King, by staging a young boy engaged in an initiatory journey. Beyoncé has turned it into an ambitious aesthetic project that has received critical acclaim.
Avalanche of stars
Songs from the album appear there, including Already, Brown Skin Girl, Mood 4 Eva and My Power. Beyoncé has invited many black celebrities: the top model Naomi Campbell, Tina Knowles-Lawson, mother of Beyoncé, the Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o but also the old Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z, who already appeared in the trailer.
As AFP reports, Beyoncé has collaborated with Nigerian singer Yemi Alade, South African Busiswa or Ghanaian artist Shatta Wale, who are much more visible here than on the album, dominated by American stars.
The committed nature of Black is King was immediately put forward by Disney: “This film is a story through the centuries to educate and reconstruct our present (…) a story of how people put aside and broken represent an extraordinary gift and a proposal for the future ” the company explained in a press release cited by the American site JustJared in June.
The context in which the film comes out offers it a particular resonance; in recent months, America has seen a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death, a 46-year-old African-American man who died at the hands of the police on May 25. Across the United States, protests have taken place to fight racism and police violence against the black community. The interpreter of Crazy In Love had she also spoke:
“We all witnessed his murder in broad daylight. We are broken, and nauseated. We cannot normalize this pain,” she said.
Hailed … and criticized
The American press is confused in praise for the splendid images of Black is King and its political message. AFP compiles some of the most glowing reviews: IndieWire pays homage to a film “saturated with stunning visual effects”, the Hollywood Reporter describes it as “a sometimes penetrating presentation of African artists whose work blends brilliantly with that of Americans with roots on the continent”.
But the press agency also notes the reproaches formulated by some spectators, who regret a distorted and amalgamated vision of Africa. They denounce a “wakandafication” operated by the singer, a reference to Wakanda, an imaginary kingdom located in Africa where the film takes place Black Panther. “Can anyone tell Beyoncé that Africa is not just culture and that we are normal people?” Tweeted Kaye Vuitton, a Nigerian.