Strong and consistent storytelling tells us a Disney tale without the fairy-tale ending. Another fine installment in the increasingly excellent ReMastered series.
This is a review of ReMastered: The Lion’s Share, but we’re no strangers to Netflix’s ReMastered series. Peruse these links for our thoughts on all the previous installments:
Who Shot the Sheriff / Tricky Dick and the Man in Black / The Two Killings of Sam Cooke / The Miami Showband Massacre / Devil at the Crossroads
You know that song, don’t you? It’s got that really recognizable bass line provided by acapella vocals, that famous verse, ‘in the jungle, the mighty jungle the Lion sleeps tonight…’ and then that soaring melody kicks in that never fails to catch you right between the eyes.
Without even mentioning the name of the song or the artist I would guess you are now humming away to yourself and may very well end up doing so for a few more hours to come (you’re welcome). The Lion Sleeps Tonight is just one of those songs; we all know it, it’s been in the Lion King, featured in Friends and has had any number of cover singles released. However, it was not until I watched ReMastered: The Lion’s Share that I understood the song’s origins and the fascinating tale of cultural appropriation behind it.
The Lion’s Share is the latest in the ReMastered series of music documentaries streaming on Netflix. The series has given us a series of fascinating music-related stories that each tell us a wider story about the politics and culture in which they happened. This most recent edition is no different.
As mentioned above, the documentary explores the story of the song ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ which has its roots in South Africa. The song started life as ‘Mbube’ and was initially popularised by folk singer Soloman Linda. After the song found its audience it was reinvented and rewritten before eventually becoming The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The problem was no one paid any royalties to Linda or his family. ReMastered: The Lion’s Share tells the story of how an interested journalist took it upon himself to ensure the family received what was owed to them and to ensure that a key piece of South African cultural heritage was restored to its rightful place.
As has often been the case with the ReMastered series, there is a bigger story here to tell than just the tale of a single song. This is a story about cultural appropriation, about white mainstream culture subsuming African folk music for its own commercial benefit before groups of white men bicker over who takes the ‘Lion’s Share’ at the expense of the original songwriter.
Interestingly, the story is told to us through the eyes of Rian Malan, the white South African journalist who took it upon himself to solve this mystery and right the wrongs done to Linda’s family. What makes this unusual is that rather than deflect attention away from the white savior narrative that the filmmakers could have been accused of, they fully embrace it, with Malan candidly acknowledging that he takes such a keen interest in this story because of his white guilt, caused by the role his ancestors had played in Apartheid. This wrinkle gives Malan an extra layer of credibility and his self-awareness draws us into the story even further.
This series is at its best when it tells a clear story and lets the audience draw its own conclusions about the cultural and political implications. Some entries have tried a bit too hard to connect the dots for us but in ReMastered: The Lion’s Share it is clear for all to see.