The Lion King was always a Disney classic, and now music’s most powerful lady, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, has opened up the coming-of-age tale to become a journey to discover the real Africa. Last year’s ‘The Lion King: The Gift’, a Bey-curated soundtrack to the live action remake of the movie, now has its own virtual accompaniment, ‘Black Is King’. Here are the key talking points from the visual album.
After a breezy ocean front opening performance, Beyoncé’ offers a beautiful transitional monologue between ‘BIGGER’ and ‘FIND YOUR WAY BACK’. When Africans dispersed around the world, our ancestors looked to the moon as a symbol of familiarity and comfort; it’s powerful for it to be a running motif in this visual performance. Beyoncé reminds the world of the moon’s century-long significance to Africa in three short-and-sweet sentences: “A journey is a gift. Something to offer at the door to the rooms of your mind. This is how we journey – far – and can still find something like home.”
The colour green
The guy you keep seeing covered with green paint isn’t doing so just for fun, of course. It’s African tribal body painting used to show status and heritage. In Africa, the colour green represents healing, life and growth, reminding the audience of the healing and blossoming Africa is engaging in once again. The stunning shade of green here also contains blue hues. Blue can represent harmony and togetherness for some, as well as struggle and refuge.
Leather > gold
As a headline on the website Inspire Afrika put it last year: leather is the new gold. Thus throughout the film, Bey and her gang wear some of the finest leathers and animal prints, and even use the material as stage design too. Although Africa only sells about 4 per cent of the world’s leather, Ethiopia alone has 57 million cattle, which could put the motherland on the top of the industry. Most of Africa’s gold was mined and extradited during colonisation, and the leather industry is the next best place from which to derive wealth. Thus, Yoncé and co. wearing the latest prints and best leather patchwork is another sign of Africa’s great power.
Some commentators say the triangular hand sign, which Bey throws up throughout the film, is a great way to show your being: the bottom is the soul’s grounded roots and the pinnacle represents its heightened celestial position. But for years, many have seen this symbol as a representation of the Eye of Providence, a symbol associated with the Illuminati. You decide!
This joyous celebration of black females makes for a warm, feel-good watch. To see powerful black women dressed up in beautiful gowns and be loved is empowering, injecting offering a sense of self-worth into those who may have once felt worthless (or perhaps even still do), reaffirming the greatness of our tight-knit community. She understands her light-skinned privilege as well: the representation of darker skinned women in this sequence is diverse and rich.
Beyoncé helps to uplift her friend and fellow Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, who has been hugely damaged by colourism in her life. The two have constantly been compared, which unfortunately put a lot of negative pressure on Kelly. Yet their 30-year-long friendship – or should we say sisterhood – proves that the alliance between black women can be stronger than Kevlar.
Seeing Black Is King as a family affair, it’s a bit weird not to see Beyoncé’s ride-or-die baby sis in a shot. Even their mum Miss Tina appeared in a tea party scene with Kelly and the gang during the ‘MOOD 4 EVA’ segment. But come on: where was Solange? Maybe she was moving house or something and couldn’t be there.
The debate rumbles on
Commentators are split on this. On the one hand, Beyoncé is celebrating a continent that has been unfairly represented for decades, reminding the world of the greatness that came before us all. On the other, her mum was moved to defend her against suggestions, made on social media when the film’s trailer dropped last month, that it appropriated Africa culture. Beyoncé hasn’t done a show in Africa for 10 years, detractors claimed, so why is she now seeming to represent its culture? It’s true that some visuals here (see ‘WATER’) depict stereotypical African objects and activities (such as water bottles and carrying big containers on their heads), arguably using them as costume and background props.
Is Bey appropriating, glorifying, or just trying to present a creative interpretation of a culture that’s been badly represented for years?
Whatever conclusion you reach on the above, the overarching statement here is that black is excellent. With flashes of black-owned brands such as Jay-Z’s Ace of Spades champers, we are reminded that Africa isn’t (and never was) a broken down, ‘third-world country’. It is a continent rich in its array of communities and tribes, trailing a wealth of history.
Take the ‘MOOD 4 EVA’ section: chilling in a mansion, people are decked out in expensive clothes, diamonds and jewels. These are explicit signs of Africa’s material wealth, though the continent’s historical and intellectual wealth is even greater. But unfortunately you can’t fit that all into an-hour-and-25 minutes, can ya?