MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
It may be a bit of a leap to call Black Is King, the visual album version of Beyoncé’s earlier CD The Lion King: The Gift a movie, but when millions of people decide to watch something in collective response, attention must be paid. It is a joy-filled, exuberant and upbeat recognition of the African diaspora and the ways in which the world is a better place because of the black experience, with music and art from a rich and varied culture.
The timing for this release could not come at a better time. As a nation (and a church) tries to come to terms with systemic racism and race inequality, Black Is King offers up a positive, life-affirming symphony. A year or so in the making, this film was shot in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Belgium. The production included hundreds of costumes (and multiple costume changes during each song!). The film features an international crew of musicians from the United States, South Africa, Cameroon, and Nigeria, including Tekno, Lord Afrixano, Burna Boy, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Moonchild Sanilli, Busiswa, Salatiel, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi. The Knowles-Carter extended family is well represented as well as Destiny’s Child.
Just piling on the star power would mean nothing without the sure, confident hand of Beyoncé and her team of cinematographers, assistant directors, costume designers and choreographers. The 85 minutes fly by with stunning images that primarily focus on the inherent beauty of black people of all ages and cultures, combined with natural beauty and a few campy moments (such as an Esther Williams inspired water dance).
The music is pretty catchy and covers a wide assortment of genres including hip-hop, Afrobeat, gospel and pop. I could always live with less Auto-Tune (but – hey – who couldn’t?).
It’s not a perfect creation. The involvement of Beyoncé’s family threatens to turn it into a vanity project, but this is undercut by her generosity towards the other performers. The “Lion King” overlay just doesn’t work, but it probably helped in securing the budget for this expensive venture. While the poetry by Warsan Shire is fine, the voices of unidentified woke black men extolling the virtues of women seemed a bit too much.
And if you aren’t familiar with the story of Baby Moses, watching a baby let loose to the rapids of a rushing river might be a tad confusing. The spirituality is all over the place, but at least the film acknowledges this dimension of life.
Black Is King remains a singular accomplishment from an artist who continues to amaze and entertain the world. There’s a reason why they call her Queen Bey. I would also highly recommend her 2019 Homecoming on Netflix, one of the best concert films I’ve ever seen.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A visual celebration of the black experience reimagined as a feature-length Beyoncé video.
One pitchfork: Some scanty costumes and suggestive dancing, but the emphasis this time is on the spiritual over the physical.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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