Black Is King movie review & film summary (2020)

The sole fact I can report is that this is inspired by the album “The Lion King: The Gift,” which in turn was inspired by last year’s remake of “The Lion King.” However, “Black is King” worked best for me when I was able to forget it had anything to do with Simba and company. Still, the way Beyoncé melds this film’s imagery in the closing number with “Spirit,” her contribution to “The Lion King”’s soundtrack, gave me a newfound appreciation for the song. It begins with Beyoncé, clad in yellow and standing in a beam of light emanating from a church window, singing the opening verse. When the camera pulls back to reveal a choir decked out in a complementary color, the image has the reverential pull of a Sunday service. The vocal harmonies coupled with the striking fashion design by Zerina Akers bring forth a visual and aural exaltation.

As its title suggests, “Black Is King” is a celebration of Black culture and Black people, where we came from, where we are and where we are going. It’s a tribute to our ancestors, ourselves and our contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic. As a result, several songs showcase a slew of African musical collaborators like Tekno, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi along with American artists like Pharrell, Childish Gambino and the Carter half of the Knowles-Carter empire, Jay-Z. The music ranges from rap to gospel to a haunting lullaby delivered by Beyoncé as her character provides narrative context for the earlier, gorgeous homage to Moses that opens the film.

The stunning visuals that permeate every frame arrive courtesy of a crew of spectacular cinematographers, each of whom brings a different yet cohesive look to the set pieces. We are in the desert, by a winding river, cruising in a car through the neighborhood, In outer space and in a series of interiors, each more awesome than the last. On occasion, a familiar face fills the frame—fellow Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé’s mother, Tina, Naomi Campbell and, in the film’s catchiest number, “Brown Skin Girl,” Lupita Nyong’o and Blue Ivy Carter. Everyone looks fantastic, their skin radiant and their attire flowing in a tactile grace. If nothing else, “Black is King” is a jaw-dropping visual achievement.

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