Black Is King
It turns out that, sometimes, even Beyoncé *can* do wrong. On June 28, the singer released the trailer for her upcoming visual album, Black Is King. Written, directed and executive produced by Queen Bey, the visual album—which is set to be released on Disney+ on July 31—is advertised as a companion to 2019’s live-action remake of The Lion King. ICYMI, Beyoncé not only voiced Nala in the film, but also recorded new music for and curated the companion album The Lion King: The Gift. According to a press release for Black Is King, the visual album “reimagines the lessons of The Lion King for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns.” The release further notes that the film honours the “voyages of Black families” throughout time through “a tale about a young king’s transcendent journey through betrayal, love and self-identity,” and is an affirmation of a grand purpose, “with lush visuals that celebrate Black resilience and culture.”
Based on music from The Gift, Black Is King will reportedly feature some of the album’s collaborators and is referred to as “a celebratory memoir for the world on the Black experience.” In an Instagram post sharing the trailer, Beyoncé wrote about her “passion project,” saying while it was originally filmed as a companion piece to The Lion King: The Gift, “The events of 2020 have made the film’s vision and message even more relevant, as people across the world embark on a historic journey. We are all in search of safety and light. Many of us want change. I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books,” she continued. “With this visual album, I wanted to present elements of Black history and African tradition, with a modern twist and a universal message, and what it truly means to find your self-identity and build a legacy.”
And—as with most things Bey produces—news of the visual album sent the internet into a freakin’ tailspin, with everyone and their mom hyperventilating over the impending release and gawking at the über gorgeous visuals in the trailer. While it’s just a glimpse, the trailer for Black Is King features Beyoncé, as well as a host of other Black creators and talent—many of whom are from Africa—decked out in traditional outfits, with biblical references and Beyoncé’s soothing vocals laid over top.
It looks amazing. But the album doesn’t feel amazing for everyone. Shortly after the trailer was released, several academics online started critiquing the new project; specifically, Beyoncé’s depiction and commodification of Blackness, and the homogenization and romanticization of Africa. These critiques can be difficult for the singer’s devoted fan base to contend with; after all, this *is* Beyoncé we’re talking about. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid points—or that we shouldn’t listen to what people are saying.