'Black Is King' Review: Beyoncé reimagines the Black experience via a journey of self-discovery
Guided by the stories and lessons of the ancestors, Beyoncé creates a path towards a new hope for her children and Black youth everywhere
'Black Is King' opens with biblical imagery, linking the film to the tale of Moses that saw the infant's mother place him in a basket and send him down a river, hoping to save his life. And as the narrator reminds us that "we are all connected in the great circle of life," linking 'Black Is King' firmly to the world of 'The Lion King: The Gift', the film cuts to Beyoncé looking ethereal in a white gown, portraying a mother goddess as she encouragingly tells viewers, "Come home to yourself, let Black be synonymous with glory."
Right from the get-go, Beyoncé is reminding her Black audience that they are a "part of something way bigger." Essentially, 'Black Is King' is rooted in the idea of 'home', which, for Black people both in Africa and across the diaspora can mean a myriad of things but is often linked by the common threads of the Black experience. But what Beyoncé is doing is redefining that experience from outside the colonialism, which views Black culture through a largely White lens. Instead, 'Black Is King' creates an entirely new mythology, not unlike the one seen in the film 'Black Panther', and envisions what the Black experience could look, sound, and feel like if Black people get to shape it for themselves, and by extension, create their own home.
To that end, 'Black Is King' blends elements of African culture and tradition with the vastness of the diasporic experience as well as the fictional worlds that African youth across the world have created out of these. For Beyoncé, home is a place where she uplifts and is uplifted by her family, her tribe and people, and a place where she embraces her cultural roots and the sociopolitical experiences that shaped her. Her Blackness extends from the painted warriors and crowned kings and queens of ancient times to the streets and towns of Africa and America and the urban industrial settings of modern towns, from the tribal dances and instruments to the gorgeous vocalization that only Beyoncé can deliver. And as she presents the question, "Who Are You?" it is evident that along with her own process of self-discovery, Beyoncé is asking her Black viewers to discover their own inner home and manifest it.
Sonically and lyrically, this album, as we already know, is Beyoncé at some of her finest. 'Black Is King' is the visual companion to 'The Lion King: The GIft' and to that end, includes the tracks off that album minus the interludes, and adds three songs to the list. Tracks like 'Don't Jealous Me' by Tekno, Yemi Alade, and Mr Eazi and 'Water' featuring Pharrell Willians are absolute sonic treats and are sure to have you dancing and grooving. But tracks like 'Scar' by Jessie Reyez and 070 Shake are where 'Black Is King' really shines, with visuals that truly demonstrate Beyoncé's skill as a storyteller. 'Scar' begins with the young protagonist, the child representing Moses, African royalty, and the Black dream, finding friendship and comfort with a gang of bikers, only to suddenly find himself out of his depth, needing to be rescued by his ancestor. Visually, this song blends all the elements Beyoncé has introduced in the film thus far, including traditional and urban Africa as well as her fictional Africa and contemporary African American imagery.
But Beyoncé is not one to create an idealistic world without recognizing the barriers and struggles that exist. And at this point in the film, we see our young protagonist from ancient Africa now represented in a young man in modern Africa, mirroring the experiences Black youth worldwide, including references to crime and drugs as well as expressing the joy and beauty that connects all these various cultures. Soon, the ancient and the modern collide once more, this time in an urban setting. As the protagonist finds himself tormented with trying to answer the question of who he is, Beyoncé reminds him via the track 'Already' that he is, and has always been, a king.
Here, the film beautifully merges Beyoncé's fictional Africa with her lived reality as an African American, as well as transporting the young protagonist to an urban Africa with elements of African American experiences layered in. Here, the singer blends all the elements of her Blackness, creating a much more cohesive picture of the reality she is manifesting for herself. And it is one that is Black excellence personified. She's not looking for someone else to give her a crown. Beyoncé crafted one for herself, and she now implores her audience to do the same for themselves, setting this journey to the tale of 'Water', which the narration tells us signifies life, purity, hope, and the ability to be reborn. 'Water' extends the narrative being shown to us to showcase Black love, healing, beauty, and growth. And here, instead of the various versions of Blackness colliding and resulting in pain, they blend, gently and seamlessly, amidst laughter, circling back to Black children living out their ancestors' wildest dreams as 'Brown Skin Girl' featuring SAINt JHN, Wizkid, and Blue Ivy Carter begins to play.
'Keys to the Kingdom' by Tiwa Savage and Mr Eazi follows, and adds another piece to the puzzle: being a king, we are reminded, isn't about being royalty at all. It is about owning the power within and being the key to liberation, both your own and those around you. 'Black Is King' is, ultimately, all about self-discovery. It is a message of hope, strength, and healing It is about finding joy in every part of who you are because all of it is precious and unique. Beyoncé, through powerful visual storytelling, shows her viewers via her protagonist a new way before returning them to the beginning to be reborn again, this time with the knowledge that they can shape their own reality.
As Beyoncé gently places the infant in its basket, she sends him down the river, this time with the hope that a new world will be born and the promise that she will see him on the 'Otherside'. And she does, welcoming the child into a world where he is loved and protected, surrounded by joy and wealth, in a world the ancestors look upon with joy as she, along with Busiswa, Moonchild Sanelly, Nija, Tierra Whack, Yemi Alade, Blue Ivy, and several more Black women reclaim 'My Power'. 'Spirit' follows, telling viewers that it is their time to rise up and reclaim their destiny.
'Black Is King' ends with a dedication from Beyoncé: gratitude to the ancestors and her son Sir Carter, leaving us with one last reminder that the Black children are the 'Keys to the Kingdom'. A kingdom, it would appear, where peace, joy, love, and Blackness are celebrated.