On July 31st, Black Is King, the visual album written, directed and executive produced by Beyoncé was released. The visual album provides elements of Lion King alongside songs Beyoncé created for The Lion King remake. Black Is King is an homage to Beyoncé’s African heritage. Viewers are mesmerized by the vivid colors and stunning imagery woven into lavish scenes of African opulence. Upon the release of the visual album, Beyoncé was met with much praise for the spectacular visuals. Black is King showcased the beauty of brown skin, providing viewers different depictions of Black beauty, with a strategic emphasis on the exquisiteness of melanated complexions. With colorism still being a prevalent issue within the Black community, Black Is King provided viewers with a refreshing change to the lighter skin tones that viewers have grown accustomed to in television and film. The visual album also displayed a Wakanda-esque version of Africa that is reminiscent of the movie Black Panther. The brilliant imagery laced with elements of Yoruba spirituality and Beyoncé as the divine feminine archetype left fans yearning for more, but Black Is King was met with some criticism that deserves exploration.
In the past Beyoncé’s father, Matthew Knowles, has made headlines for his statements about how part of his daughter’s success may be attributed to her lighter complexion. In different parts of the world, including many African countries, the usage of skin bleaching cream is a persistent issue. With these considerations in mind, some may wonder why Beyoncé has chosen to be one of the main focal points throughout Black Is King. Beyoncé, who has Creole roots, has been a prominent representation of Black female beauty for over twenty years and has been heralded as one of the most beautiful women alive. Based on colorism, featurism and texturism, one’s proximity to whiteness affords them benefits, privileges and opportunities in society. In 2008 Beyoncé was accused of allowing L’Oreal to “whiten” her skin when images of an ad were called out for alterations. Perhaps Beyoncé’s lighter skin, Eurocentric phenotype and hair texture have allowed her greater access in the music industry and beyond. There have also been critiques about what exactly blackness is and whether Beyoncé is equipped to define Blackness. Beyoncé has mixed-race lineage, and her father explained in a past interview that he initially thought her mother, Tina Knowles, was white.
Two additional themes of critique with Black Is King is the idea of cultural appropriation and the maintenance of capitalism through the visual album. Africans who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and 1990s are likely to have heard negative stereotypes that were perpetuated based on a perceived lack of resources on the continent as well as depictions of abject poverty. Over the last few decades, the perception of the continent has started to shift with many Black Americans longing to reconnect with their roots, culture, and heritage that was stripped from their ancestors during slavery. The question then becomes whether one can appropriate a culture from which they originated? Additionally, because of the previous portrayals of Africa that are engrained in the memories of many, the goal with Beyoncé’s Black is King may have been to showcase the affluence and abundance that are underrepresented in media portrayals. In regard to claims that Beyoncé is upholding capitalism, that argument is harder to refute with Disney+ being unavailable in many parts of Africa currently.
One thing that is certain is that Beyoncé’s most recent body of work is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of art that celebrates blackness in a wider array than what the public may be used to. Examples of Black excellence in its purest form are sprinkled throughout Black Is King. There is a need for more art that allows Black people to appreciate and revel in their blackness. Beyoncé invites viewers on a voyage of how she views and understands blackness. Watching Black Is King encourages a self-expedition and encourages audience members to better understand, appreciate, honor, and celebrate blackness in its varying forms. The visual album offers a powerful and awe-inspiring analysis of what blackness means to one of the greatest entertainers of this era. “Artistic creation,” states Liu Chun-Hau “is not mere decoration. The artist has to convey his inspiration to others while allowing them freedom of interpretation.”