Review: Beyoncé’s Black is King

Beyoncé’s newest documentary explores the tough issues of race and culture. The release of “Black is King” marks a new, more vibrant era for storytelling in the filmmaking community.

Will Hite, Reporter

As well known as singer-songwriter Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is, some of her greatest achievements have come from a lesser known side of her accomplished career: filmmaking. Following the 2019 release of Disney’s updated and reanimated remake of “The Lion King” featuring Queen B’s album “The Lion King: The Gift,” the singer herself produced, starred, and narrated in her own coming of age film entitled “Black is King.” Her beautifully crafted masterpiece probes the often forgotten interconnectedness between African and Black American culture all set to the backdrop of her unmistakable elegant flair. Beyoncé’s message of “finding your roots” vibrantly resonates through the film and its music video-esque production that captures the essence of the power she sees in Black culture.

Color choices are among the first things to catch the viewer’s eye as the film opens, with dry mountains and the silky whites of the clothes alluding to racial divides. The biblical arrival of our Simba-like king down a winding river is the first of several not-so-subtle nods to Beyoncé’s Christian faith, despite the production’s main focus on African culture. The calming melodies from B’s early tracks quickly transform into bright and upbeat ones as the documentary catapults into what can only be described as Afrofuturism: sharp, intriguing colors adorn the outfits of myriad performers that dance to the singer’s top “The Lion King” hits.

Suddenly, the film takes a refreshing turn towards culture and traditional dance as, much in Beyoncé’s style, the hairstyles and clothes of the dancers constantly upgrade to increasingly daring and powerful looks. Frequent dramatic pauses provide a reflective break from the vibrant, color-laden scenes however, allowing time for a necessary portion of character development that can at times be lost in the dance-heavy film. Through the cultural and modern dance, the artist wholeheartedly calls to both the developing child and the audience to, as her song urges, “find your way back” to your roots: to the child, she calls for an embrace of his Black culture; to the viewers, she calls for an embrace and acceptance of the African culture from which we all stem.

The similarities to the path of Simba in “The Lion King” are perhaps the most expected element of the wildly charismatic piece, as B’s album itself bridged the gap between music and Disney’s cinematography in the first place. The connection between the two productions is constantly referenced with snippets of Beyoncé’s role as Nala in “The Lion King” at crucial moments in the documentary. Much as Simba finds himself at odds with his adventurous desires in the den of Scar, so too does the child, who finds himself being lured in by street and gang life in his own right. At this moment, the filmmaking genius is especially evident: unusually dark scenes emphasize the dreadfulness of the situation, and more traditional “American sounds” of motorcycle roars and theme park screams drown out the Nigerian beats in a clear transition from African to Black American culture. Simba’s eventual rise to power is also symbolized in Beyoncé’s rendition, this time in the form of a more up-front, joyful switch in both song tone and film brightness. Themes of balance being restored drip from the words of famous African singers such as Burna Boy and American celebrities like B’s husband, Jay-Z, who echoes “true kings never die, we multiply” in a reference to the titular goal as a scene closes.

Equal parts poetic and cultural, “Black is King’s” filmmaking excellence sets the bar for documentarians and musicians alike. Beyoncé’s call to embrace culture, heritage, and above all, community as a whole reverberates across all generations of viewers. The film’s examination of current issues and traditional values easily finds a place in the hearts of both fans of Disney’s classic animations and supporters of today’s pop music culture.