Beyonce’s much-awaited visual album finally dropped on Friday, July 31, 2020 and it has since been making quite a cloudburst of buzz.
“Black Is King” is a labor of love. It is my passion project that I have been filming, researching and editing day and night for the past year. I’ve given it my all and now it’s yours — BeyonceTweet
The singer initially announced the news with a surprise one-minute trailer for the visual album — which has also been described as a film — on her website in June, giving fans a first look at the Lion King-inspired release.
Written, directed and executive produced by Beyonce, Black Is King premiered globally via Disney+ about a year after the theatrical release of The Lion King remake, which Beyonce voiced Nala in.
Black Is King is based on the music from Beyonce’s 2019 soundtrack for the animated film, The Lion King: The Gift. Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter all made appearances on the set.
The production highlights “the voyages of Black families, throughout time” and tell the story of “a young king’s transcendent journey through betrayal, love and self-identity. Black Is King is an affirmation of a grand purpose, with lush visuals that celebrate Black resilience and culture.”
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 8.43/10. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 81 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”.
Writing for Decider, Anna Menta said that Black Is King is “an undeniably breathtaking, personal, and political work of art.” Describing it as “a visual masterpiece” that is “almost overwhelming”, Menta praised the “neverending progression of jaw-dropping landscapes” and the “instantly iconic” costumes, adding that “every frame, outfit, and dance move has meaning.”
In a review for the Los Angeles Times, Lorraine Ali said the film is a “pageant of sight and sound honoring the Black diaspora, weaving a collection of vibrant, profound and defiantly creative scenarios”.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen of The Sydney Morning Herald wrote that Beyoncé “stuns again with the spellbinding Black Is King”, which “takes the viewer on a dazzling, hyper-real ride through natural landscapes and space-age futures, while incorporating elements of black history and tradition.” Nguyen added that the film transposes The Lion King “to a modern political context, turning the tale of Simba’s journey towards selfhood into a bold statement about the power of black identity.”
Odie Henderson of RogerEbert.com described Black Is King as an “inspirational piece of art” and “a jaw-dropping visual achievement” with “stunning visuals that permeate every frame [which] arrive courtesy of a crew of spectacular cinematographers, each of whom brings a different yet cohesive look to the set pieces”.
Marianna Cerini, writing for CNN, also praised the visuals and themes of the film, calling it “a universe of phenomenal, larger-than-life looks and sets that are as powerful and artful as the cultural messages conveyed through the music.”
David Smyth of the Evening Standard agreed, describing the film as a “sumptuous, breathtaking celebration of ancestry.”
Writing for NME, Jenessa Williams praised the “stirring iconography” and “impeccable” visuals, adding that “each shot is straight out of a modernist gallery, juicy pinks and oranges beaming against impossible sunsets and lush green landscapes.”
Chanté Joseph of The Guardian declared Black Is King “a feast for the eyes, celebrating the beauty and richness of African cultures with emotion and power.”
Okla Jones of Consequence of Sound praised Beyoncé’s direction, describing how “Beyoncé’s attention to detail is prevalent throughout the film’s nearly 90-minute duration, with each scene matching the emotional tone of the song that accompanies it”.
Janelle Okwodu of Vogue agreed, opining that “Black Is King shows her at her most commanding”, with Beyoncé’s vision tying the work of her collaborators together.
Aidin Vaziri of the San Francisco Chronicle commented that the film “takes cues from the theatrical pacing of Beyoncé’s tour performances”.
Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic of The New York Times, wrote that the “overwhelming” scenes and outfits are “dazzling, but also calculated”, with “all of them exist[ing] to serve the vision of one woman; to elevate the imagery of Beyoncé”. Friedman continued, explaining how this concentrates “all the power in her own hands, marking the garments into tools to reinforce her message”, concluding that “this project and all its trappings position its auteur, as the voice-over says in the film, as the “divine archetype”.”
Allegra Frank of Vox described how “Beyoncé shows us through the 85-minute powerhouse of an art film” that “Africa is no singular entity… Africa is the motherland of all shades of Blackness. And through these gorgeous frames, each one an art piece of its own, she says: “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.””
Writing for Glamour, Candace McDuffie called Black Is King “an unforgettable visual experience”, describing the film as holding “a mirror to the dynamic nature of Blackness—one for all the world to see. The result is truly remarkable.” McDuffie added that the film “is exactly what we need right now…[as] its meaning is much deeper than a simple retelling of a Disney movie.”
In a review for Empire, Amon Warmann described the film as “a bold and unique offering that’s brimming with Black pride” and “a powerful reminder of what Black people can aspire to be.”
Cydney Henderson of USA Today wrote that the star of the film “is the raw, untapped talent from performers around the world showcasing their rich tradition and culture, history and lineage”, with the film showcasing “the often overlooked Afrobeats genre”, as well as “less mainstream superstars like Wizkid and Shatta Wale while employing popular African dances like the gbese, gwara and zanku.”
Dominic Patten of Deadline wrote that with Black Is King, “you have a cultural dominance almost unknown nowadays”, with the film being “the conformation of its creator and star as the cultural Queen of our time.”
Writing for Vogue, Hayley Maitland opined that Beyoncé is “shifting the zeitgeist” with Black Is King, adding that “the project feels especially timely in light of recent devastating events and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter.”
Matt Donnelly of Variety wrote that “Beyoncé is pushing the boundaries of what many have come to expect from the Disney machine” with Black Is King being “the boldest brand statement ever from Disney” and “the most direct confrontation of a timely societal discussion around racism that Disney Plus has seen.”