Beyoncé’s latest visual feat might be her best yet.
The highly anticipated Black Is King dropped on Disney+ today, and it’s a bonanza of incredible choreography, stunning visuals and unbelievably beautiful costumes. Watch with your Disney+ account right here.
Beyoncé is no stranger to the director’s chair. Her other visual album, 2016’s Lemonade, was a striking companion to the album of the same name. She also co-directed Homecoming, last year’s Netflix documentary and concert film documenting the long road to and the final product of Beyoncé’s now-legendary 2018 Coachella performance.
The vibrant Black Is King, which took more than a year to complete, is symbolically and visually just as striking as the two aforementioned projects, but it’s more colorful and maybe even stronger scene-by-scene. The movie is based on Beyoncé’s 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift, which she released in honor of the live action Disney movie starring herself and Donald Glover in the roles of Nala and Simba respectively. Black Is King is also based on The Lion King story. Even if you don’t have a Disney+ account, you can watch the video for the song “Already” below. There are also videos out now for the songs “Brown Skin Girl,” “Mood 4 Eva” and “My Power.”
Beyoncé has been intentional about spotlighting fellow Black artists throughout all of her most recent projects, including her 2018 album with husband Jay-Z, EVERYTHING IS LOVE (which you’ll remember arrived with the unforgettable Louvre-set “APESHIT” video). She continues her exploration of Black greatness in the equally impeccable Black Is King, which also includes rare guest spots from Jay-Z and their children Blue Ivy, Rumi and Sir Carter, as well as Beyoncé’s mother Tina Knowles-Lawson, her Destiny’s Child sister Kelly Rowland, Pharrell Williams, Lupita Nyong’o and a host of African musicians and creators from around the world. Much of the movie seems to spotlight Black womanhood (“Many times it’s the women who re-assemble us / men taught me some things, but women taught me a whole lot more,” says one spoken-word line) and girlhood (especially in the moving “BROWN SKIN GIRl,” where Blue Ivy sings a line!), but the credits reveal that Beyoncé dedicated the film to her son, “Sir Carter, and to all our sons and daughters, the sun and moon bow for you. You are the keys to the kingdom.” We are feeling things!
That dedication acts as empowerment to young Black people everywhere. ”[My] hope for this film is that it shifts the global perception of the word black, which has always meant inspiration and love and strength and beauty to me,” Beyoncé told Good Morning America.
Black Is King begins with a bit of spoken-word mastery as Beyoncé unleashes this gorgeous line: “Black is the color of my true love’s skin / coils and hair catching centuries of prayers,” before adding, “You are welcome to come home to yourself / let Black be synonymous with glory.” While narratively it mirrors a beloved Disney story, so much of Black Is King is more about affirming Black existence (“You’re part of something way bigger”) than the story of young Simba. Everything from the costumes to the landscapes to the language relate to different parts of the larger African diaspora.
Beyoncé herself has confirmed the meaning behind the visuals, writing on Instagram that she “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.” She also alluded to the added meaning of releasing this particular project in 2020, when protests fighting for Black lives have erupted across the country and world: “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.”
In addition to the heavy symbolism, viewers will also delight in the familiarity of the story, which is interspersed with footage from normal, everyday scenes shot in the various cities and places (New York, Los Angeles, South Africa, West Africa, London and Belgium ) where Black Is King was filmed. This is The Lion King with a twist: A herd of hyenas is replaced with a gang of motorcyclists, Jay-Z cruises by in a black convertible and then riffs on “Ms. Jackson,” a human chess set competes in a match, Simba and Nala sit down for a decked-out feast and a gospel choir adorned in hot-pink suits sing the beloved “SPIRIT” with such, well, spirit. The costumes, from cobalt-blue sequins to elaborate headdresses to fierce animal prints, are extravagant and often grotesque, and some scenes convey pure decadence (especially “MOOD 4 EVA”).
In this movie, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are, as usual, concerned with the legacy they’ll one day leave behind. There’s absolutely no denying what that legacy will be: They spent their careers reminding the world how special Blackness really is. The film ends with a mantra confirming this goal: “We need to show black men and women are emotional, strong and intuitive.”
Black Is King is now streaming on Disney+.
Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. She occasionally moonlights as a film fan on Letterboxd. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson.