Beyonce’s Black is King retells the story of The Lion King in lavishly creative fashion, and it’s a bold, striking, masterful work of art.
The unique thing about Beyonce as a beloved and indescribably popular cultural icon is that she’s actually deserving of the attention. This has been obvious for ages, with her talents spilling across mediums and platforms, from Netflix’s excellent documentary feature Homecoming to Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King (she voiced Nala), and now to Disney+ and Black Is King, a visual album inspired by The Gift, which she in fact wrote to accompany that maligned reimagining. Trust Beyonce, of all people, to arrive right on the back of Hamilton, which became an instant lockdown small-screen sensation, and deliver a stage recording that’s somehow even more striking in its imagination, energy, and artistic verisimilitude.
Big words aside, Black is King is full of bangers. But it’s also quite a bit more than that. It reimagines The Lion King as a visual album and as an ode to the Black diaspora, and revels in the kind of lavish creativity that you can only get with a) an artist operating at the peak of her creative powers and b) a popular culture that trusts in that artist to deliver something reliably bonkers and her rabid fan-base to gobble it right up. It’s especially striking on the back of an extended quarantine during which many artists have had to think outside the box and settle for uncharacteristically lo-fi options. For Beyonce, the rules simply do not apply.
But it isn’t just Beyonce. Black is King might boast her name front and center, but it’s a collaborative work accomplished by a laundry list of talent and up-and-coming African filmmakers. It also includes A-list celebrity cameos from Lupita N’Yongo and Naomi Campbell to Kelly Rowland in a two-thirds of Destiny’s Child reunion just because, and the celebration of womanhood, beauty and blackness is thick in the air.
Obviously I’m not a woman, nor am I black or beautiful, but I have a six-year-old daughter who watches The Lion King – the animated one, relax – virtually on repeat. So I’m intimately familiar with the Shakespearean elegance and timelessness of the narrative and absolutely sick to death of the songs. For someone like me, the cultural resonance is a bonus to a thorough and hypnotic retelling of that classic story that also doubles as a spiritual sequel to 2016’s Lemonade. At this point, the idea of Beyonce making something as lowly as a regular old music video is almost comical.
Let’s not beat around the bush: Black is King is an incredible, nay magical accomplishment; a fiery showcase of imagination and energy that bristles with passion and pride and the sheer force of unbridled creative will. If the underlying story is familiar, that only serves to highlight how truly new this version of it really is.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.