- Beyoncé recently released her newest visual album, “Black Is King,” on Disney Plus.
- The film is designed as a companion piece to “The Gift,” which Beyoncé curated to correspond with her role as Nala in Disney’s 2019 “The Lion King” remake.
- The hour-long project took more than one year to film, in a variety of locations worldwide such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, New York, California, and Belgium.
- Every scene is packed with carefully chosen outfits, references to the original “Lion King” story, and allusions to pan-African cultures, beliefs, and rituals.
- We broke down the movie’s most important visuals and created a guide of more than 100 details you may have missed.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Beyoncé’s newest visual album may be her most culturally dense and aesthetically rich project to date.
“Black Is King,” which arrived on Disney Plus on Friday, is designed as a companion piece to “The Gift,” which Beyoncé curated to correspond with her role as Nala in Disney’s 2019 “The Lion King” remake.
Indeed, the hour-long film loosely follows a “Lion King”-inspired plot. It stars Beyoncé alongside a young African prince, who must explore his own culture and history in order to grow up and reclaim his proverbial throne.
But beyond that character arc, every scene is packed with carefully chosen outfits, evocative imagery, and allusions to pan-African communities, beliefs, and rituals.
“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,” Beyoncé wrote on Instagram. “I spent a lot of time exploring and absorbing the lessons of past generations and the rich history of different African customs.”
“I only hope that from watching, you leave feeling inspired to continue building a legacy that impacts the world in an immeasurable way. I pray that everyone sees the beauty and resilience of our people.”
Insider broke down the movie’s most important moments and created a guide of more than 100 details you may have missed.
Note: Bria Overs contributed reporting to this piece.
The film begins with a woven basket floating down a river, evoking the Biblical story of Moses.
In the Bible’s Old Testament, the Egyptian Pharaoh orders all first-born male babies to be killed. So one woman, Jochebed, attempts to protect her son by placing him in a basket and setting him adrift on the Nile River.
The Pharoah’s daughter discovers the baby and decides to raise him as her own, calling him Moses. He is later chosen by God to free the Israelites from slavery and lead them out of Egypt.
As Salamishah Tillet noted for The New York Times, “the waters here also invoke the Middle Passage, with each ripple break recalling the fateful journey in which New World slavery, and America itself, was born.”
Beyoncé is introduced as a kind of maternal figure or spiritual guide.
For the opening sequence, Beyoncé wears a white, elegant dress that was custom-made by New York City-based designer Wendy Nichol – who also designed the famous “Drunk in Love” dress Beyoncé wore on the beach.
Zerina Akers, Beyoncé’s longtime stylist, is credited as the film’s costume designer.
Next, she appears on a picturesque beach, holding a Black baby.
“Bless the body, born celestial. Beautiful in dark matter,” Beyoncé narrates. “Black is the colour of my true love’s skin.”
Throughout “Black Is King,” Beyoncé delivers poetic monologues in between songs; Warsan Shire, who also penned much of the poetry featured in Beyoncé’s 2016 visual album “Lemonade,” is listed as a featured contributor in the credits.
The film’s credits also list four cowriters: Yrsa Daley-Ward, another British poet with African heritage; Clover Hope, who was born in Guyana and raised in Queens; Andrew Morrow, who worked on “Lemonade” and “Homecoming,” Beyoncé’s Coachella documentary; and Beyoncé herself.
The scene appears to mimic baptism, a holy Christian ceremony.
“Coils and hair catching centuries of prayers, spread through a smoke,” Beyoncé recites. “You are welcome to come home to yourself. Let Black be synonymous with glory.”
She then begins to sing “Bigger,” the second track on “The Gift,” which echoes the message of greater responsibility that Mufasa imparts to his son in the original film.
“If you feel insignificant / You better think again / Better wake up because / You’re part of something way bigger,” Beyoncé sings. “Not just a speck in the universe / Not just some words in a bible verse / You are the living word.”
Dancer Stephen Ojo makes his first appearance as the “blue man,” whose body paint may reference Gullah folktales.
Stephen Ojo is a 23-year-old Nigerian dancer and singer, who records music under the name Papi Ojo.
Ojo portrays an enigmatic character in “Black Is King.” He reappears throughout the film, usually dancing, with his skin painted a distinct shade of teal-blue.
Many fans have speculated that he represents an ancestor, watching over Simba.
The light shade of his body paint recalls the Gullah tradition of painting porch ceilings, doors, and shutters “Haint Blue,” in order to protect the inhabitant from unwanted spirits and specters.
According to Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Centre, the Gullah are “a distinctive group of Black Americans from South Carolina and Georgia” who were brought to the country as slaves, and “have been able to preserve more of their African cultural heritage than any other group of Black Americans.”
Beyoncé marks the baby’s face with white paint, which recalls Rafiki anointing Simba.
Rafiki, the wise mandrill in “The Lion King,” marks the forehead of baby Simba before presenting him to his future subjects.
The scene takes place during the film’s famous opening number, “Circle of Life,” a song about the connection shared by all living things – a theme that Beyoncé echoes in “Bigger.”
Blue Ivy makes her first appearance while Beyoncé sings, “I’ll be the roots, you’ll be the tree / Pass on the fruit that was given to me / Legacy.”
Blue Ivy Carter, Beyoncé’s 8-year-old daughter with Jay-Z, makes multiple appearances throughout the film.
During an intermission in “Bigger,” the film’s royal family is officially introduced.
Connie Chiume, who previously appeared in “Black Panther,” plays this film’s version of Simba’s mother, Sarabi.
“Black Is King” loosely follows the famous “Lion King” storyline. The young, Simba-like prince is portrayed by Folajomi Akinmurele.
As Simba’s face is again marked with white paint, a portrait of Beyoncé hangs in the background.
The portrait of Beyoncé holding a baby is similar to the popular depictions of “Madonna and Child” throughout art history, dating back to the Ancient Roman Empire.
Beyoncé wears cow print and bull horns, which symbolized divinity and fertility in ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped a number of bovine deities. Cows were a symbol of motherhood, bounty, and fertility, while bulls were associated with patience and protection.
Hathor – ancient Egyptian goddess of the sky, womanhood, fertility, and love – was typically depicted with bull horns on her head. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “her principal animal form was that of a cow, and she was strongly associated with motherhood.”
Riccardo Tisci, Burberry’s chief creative officer, created this custom corset top and matching wool mini skirt for Beyoncé.
These red rope dresses were designed by Déviant La Vie.
Once again, Beyoncé gives the young prince white markings on his face.
The use of white paint – or possibly clay – in these early scenes may be a powerful reference to African spiritualism.
For the Luba people, located throughout much of south-central Democratic Republic of the Congo, royal sculptures and symbols would be covered in white powder, symbolizing a spiritual connection to ancestors. The Punu people in Central Africa would use Kaolin, a soft white clay, to colour artifacts and masks.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kaolin was taken from riverbeds and “associated with healing and with a spiritual, ancestral realm of existence.”
“By using this material, the artist both celebrated the beauty of a mortal woman and transformed her into a transcendent being,”reads one description of a mukudj mask in the museum’s collection.
In Côte d’Ivoire, sacred priestesses known as “komians” use Kaolin during purification ceremonies.
“The komian has a sanctifying role,” Pascal Abinan Kouakou, the Ivorian employment minister, told AFP last year. “She participates in the cohesion and stability of our regions.”
The film draws a connection between Black youth and ancient royalty.
“The great kings were here long before us,” Beyoncé narrates. “Ancient masters of celestial lore.”
Dialogue from “The Lion King” is also used to underscore this point. Mufasa, voiced by James Earl Jones, can be heard telling his son about “the great kings in the past” who look down from the stars – while the film’s version of Mufasa hands young Simba a golden idol.
The young prince is represented as a shooting star: a direct descendant of the “great kings” in the sky.
“Just remember, those kings will always be up there to guide you,” Mufasa says. “And so will I.”
When the shooting star crash-lands behind Beyoncé, her body is painted with black and green stripes.
According to NME’s Kyann-Sian Williams, the reoccurrence of green body paint in “Black Is King” is meant to evoke “African tribal body painting,” which is “used to show status and heritage.”
“In Africa, the colour green represents healing, life and growth, reminding the audience of the healing and blossoming Africa is engaging in once again,” Williams writes.
The black and green stripes also evoke the colours and design of the Pan-African flag, which represents people of the African Diaspora.
Many of the glittering accessories that Beyoncé wears throughout the film were custom-made by Laurel DeWitt.
Laurel DeWitt is the self-proclaimed “Queen of Chain & Metal.” The New York native has designed accessories for stars like Nicki Minaj, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga.
Beyoncé’s diamond-encrusted bodysuits in “Find Your Way Back” were designed by D.Bleu.Dazzled.
D.Bleu.Dazzled founder Destiney Bleu, who previously worked with Beyoncé for “The Formation Tour,” specialises in “custom crystallised hosiery, lingerie, and performance wear.”
Beyoncé’s sunglasses were designed by Kerin Rose Gold’s eyewear and accessory line, A-Morir.
A-Morir designed at least five pairs of embellished eyewear for “Black Is King,” including the CHOI crystal chain sunglasses seen here.
This crystal cape is a custom piece by Lace by Tanaya, inspired by the rain.
“I asked @lacebytanaya for rain and she gave me DRIP,” Akers wrote on Instagram.
This dazzling look is by the New York City-based studio AREA.
AREA was founded by two designers in New York City: Kentucky native Beckett Fogg and Poland-born, Holland-raised Piotrek Pansczczy.
While performing “Find Your Way Back,” Beyoncé wears the AREA Crystal Crochet Poncho, plus a hairpiece and earrings designed by the studio.
This striped, crystal couture dress was designed by Vrettos Vrettakos, in collaboration with Swarovski.
“We started to prepare the dress 5 months ago,” Vrettos Vrettakos told Fashion Bomb Daily. “We ordered the materials inspired from the Colours of Africa, [and] embellished the dress with crystal jewel fringes with the same crystals colours.”
The larger-than-life moon in “Find Your Way Back” is an important motif.
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, “The moon – its presence in the night sky, its journey as it rises and sets, and its light that reveals or hides human activity – is a potent metaphor in the verbal and visual arts of Africa.”
“A feminine symbol in many African societies, the moon is often linked to life itself, through lunar cycles that align with human and agricultural fertility and that structure ritual calendars.”
These dancers’ outfits seem inspired by Dogon rituals.
Dogon is an ethnic group in Mali, a country in West Africa.
The dancers’ masks in this scene are similar to the wooden, cross-like structures of Dogon kanaga masks.
“Like other Dogon masks, kanaga masks are worn at rituals called dama, whose goal is to transport the souls of deceased family members away from the village and to enhance the prestige of the deceased and his descendants by magnificent masked performances and generous displays of hospitality,” according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The skirts and harnesses also resemble the outfits worn at dama rituals, which honour deceased elders and act as “a door to Dogon manhood,” according to National Geographic.
“Find Your Way Back” is followed by some kind of royal ceremony — where we’re introduced to Scar.
The Scar-inspired antagonist is portrayed by South African actor Warren Masemola, who reappears throughout the film to intimidate and threaten Simba.
As the camera pans over a village, a short snippet of dialogue from “The Lion King” introduces tension: “Go back to your den, Simba,” says Scar, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor. “I don’t babysit.”
The elephant graveyard is represented by a dimly lit warehouse.
A monkey beckons the African prince, who then wanders into a sinister warehouse, which seems to parallel the elephant graveyard scene in “The Lion King.”
Lord Afrixana appears wearing all white, his shoulders draped with a massive python.
Lord Afrixana, who is one of four African artists on “Don’t Jealous Me,” appears to play a more sinister version of Rafiki.
“Who are you?” he asks the young prince – the same question that Rafiki asks Simba in “The Lion King.”
In Christianity, snakes represent temptation and deception; Satan took the form of a snake in the Garden of Eden, in order to persuade Adam and Eve to commit their first sins.
Beyoncé also wears a snake in this scene, possibly to symbolise wealth and danger.
For the Baga people in Guinea, local water spirits called Niniganné – which are associated with both wealth and danger – are said to take the form of snakes.
However, there is also evidence of snake worship throughout other African countries. In Benin, for example, the Temple of Pythons pays tribute to the serpent deity Dan, “a powerful Vodun god thought to be a divine mediator between the spirits and the living,” according to the Washington Post.
Yemi Alade makes a memorable appearance to perform “Don’t Jealous Me.”
“Don’t Jealous Me” by Tekno, Lord Afrixana, Mr Eazi, and Yemi Alade is the sixth track on “The Gift.”
A motorcycle gang represents the infamous stampede in “The Lion King.”
The motorcycles may also represent the hyenas, who are charged with killing Simba, but instead force him to run away.
Jessie Reyez shows up to perform the villainous theme “Scar.”
This scene marks a major change from the structure of “The Gift.”
While 070 Shake and Jessie Reyez’s song “Scar” is the 25th track on the album, it arrives very early in “Black Is King” to coincide with the motorcycle stampede.
Flanked by motorcycles, Scar symbolically takes the throne.
This scene is topped by Scar’s voice from the movie, gasping, “Simba, what have you done? Run away, Simba, and never return.”
Next, we see Mufasa’s funeral, bathed in all white.
“No true king ever dies,” Beyoncé narrates. “Our ancestors hold us from within our own bodies, guiding us through our reflections; light refracted.”
Beyoncé performs “Nile” in an all-white lace-and-rope dress.
The elaborate ensemble was a collaboration between Déviant La Vie and Alani Taylor.
The lace and rope may be intended to evoke mummification in ancient Egypt, which was a sacred process to preserve the dignity of a dead body, so the soul or spirit would not be lost or damaged.
Simba’s transition into a carefree life is represented by a cheetah-print convertible Rolls Royce.
This would be the scene in the movie when Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa, who teach him their motto, “Hakuna Matata.” (It means “no worries.”)
As Simba drives, he passes Beyoncé and the “blue man,” apparently ignoring his two spiritual, ancestral guides.
“Look, kid. Bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it, right?” says Timon, voiced by Billy Eichner. “Wrong! When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world!”
The prince appears to imagine himself as Jay-Z, arriving at a mansion with Adidas-clad butlers.
In the subsequent performance of “Mood 4 Eva,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s display of wealth and opulence is presented as the ideal of success and having “made it.”
The “mood” masks, worn by both Beyoncé and Simba, underscore how “Mood 4 Eva” is designed like a dream sequence.
Throughout “Mood 4 Eva,” Beyoncé and Simba are shown in similar situations with similar clothes.
Later, Jay-Z and Simba also wear matching outfits.
The young prince seems to imagine himself as a successful, wealthy man.
Another painting of Beyoncé as a saint-like maternal figure, this time accompanied by her three children, hangs in the mansion.
She is also accompanied by cherubs fluttering around her head, handing her Grammy Awards.
A painting by Derrick Adams hangs on the wall.
Derrick Adams is well known for his abstract, collage-type portraits.
Artwork is so prevalent in the “Mood 4 Eva” sequence that Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles Lawson, is credited as an art curator for the film. Lawson previously revealed that some of the works were borrowed from her own collection.
This moment echoes a similar scene in Beyoncé’s music video for “Partition.”
“Partition” begins with Beyoncé sitting down for breakfast in a mansion, casting the man across from her some seductive looks.
In “Mood 4 Eva,” however, she’s the one reading the newspaper.
Another shot echoes Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s music video for “Apes**t,” which was filmed in The Lourve.
In “Apes**t,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z stand in front of the Mona Lisa, staring down the camera as a couple.
But in “Mood 4 Eva,” they stand in front of a portrait of their own family.
It took 10 people and over 300 hours to create this hand-sewn, leopard-print jumpsuit by Valentino.
Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli designed this one-of-a-kind Valentino Haute Couture ensemble, complete with a jacquard leopard print cape.
“The first (and probably last) time you will see custom @maisonvalentino couture in a music video,” Akers wrote on Instagram. “10 people and over 300 hours went into this handmade look. Every sequin was hand sewn.”
She also wears a two-piece robe set, designed by Duckie Confetti.
The robe is printed with the design of a $US100 bill.
The outfit was listed for sale on Beyoncé’s website, but sold out almost immediately.
This elegant blue gown, with a 16-foot train, is custom Alejandro Collection.
“We started months in advance in the creation and masterminding process with the brilliant Zerina Akers. We changed shapes, colours, [and] textures numerous times as the settings, locations and moods changed to be ahead of fashion as Zerina and Beyonce are accustomed to doing,” Peraza told Fashion Bomb Daily.
As some fans have noted, the gown’s shape and shade of deep blue resemble a peacock, which aligns with the animal-inspired fashion choices for this song.
Beyoncé’s black lace hat was designed by Jo Miller and Marta Jakubowski.
In one scene, her structural headwear resembles styles from Ekonda and Congolese cultures.
According to the Dallas Museum of Art, a chief’s hat for the Ekonda people is known as a botolo, typically made of plant fibres and adorned with precious brass or copper disks – materials that “signify wealth and prestige.”
“Village chiefs (nkumu) among the Ekonda and neighbouring groups wear the botolo as an insignia of office,” reads a description of one botolo in the museum’s collection.
“It associates them with the powers of the ancestors, important ritual functions, and divination. A chief who is the first in his line must buy the hat. If he is descended from a chief, he inherits it from his predecessor.”
Akers also confirmed that Beyoncé’s headpiece was inspired by an “Ancient Congolese Mangbetu crown.”
Kelly Rowland makes a brief appearance.
Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland were formerly members of the iconic girl group, Destiny’s Child.
As does Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles Lawson.
Beyoncé recently name-dropped her mother in the remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” (“And my mama was a savage, n—-, got this s— from Tina”).
Beyoncé cracks open a book titled “Black Gods and Kings.”
“Black Gods and Kings” is a catalogue of African art, particularly in the Yoruba region of southwest Nigeria, by Robert Farris Thompson.
The book’s title certainly underscores the themes of ancestral spirituality, divinity, and royalty throughout “Black Is King.”
The brightly coloured synchronised swimmers recall the surreal “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” animation from the original “Lion King.”
Many of the fashion choices in “Mood 4 Eva” seem inspired by animals, so it makes sense that some visuals, colours, and choreography would draw from the animals in Simba’s kingdom.
The New York Times art critic Jason Farago cites Busby Berkeley, famous for incorporating geometric patterns into his musical productions, as another possible inspiration.
The Times’ Wesley Morris, on the other hand, describes this scene as a “synchronised, Esther Williams pool party.”
At one point, Simba seems to imagine himself dining with Nala.
Throughout the film, Nala is identifiable by her bright pink clothes.
This sweet moment foreshadows their eventual reunion.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z share a similar — albeit more casual — moment when they eat dinner together in front of the TV.
The same portrait hangs behind the couple as hung between Simba and Nala.
It closely resembles the painting style of British-Ghanaian artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
The painting’s subject also resembles Donald Glover, who voices grown-up Simba in the “Lion King” remake and lends featured vocals to “Mood 4 Eva.”
A human chessboard emphasises the concept of duality.
“Dark and light; duality; the balancing of good and evil,” a man’s voice narrates.
“All of this is what you need to make a move,” a second man continues. “Understand that good and evil often appear together. Nothing is complete on its own. There’s an ongoing exchange between dark and light… It’s not always a battle. It’s a conversation.”
Beyoncé is the queen of the white pieces.
Many of the black looks in the chessboard scene were designed by Melissa Simon-Hartman, whose designs often draw inspiration from her Trinidadian and Ghanaian heritage.
The Simba-like prince is now depicted as a grown man.
He is portrayed by South African actor and artist Nyaniso Ntsikelelo Dzedze.
We are led to believe grown-up Simba is happy in his carefree, frivolous lifestyle.
He is shown laughing, sitting on the hood of a fancy car, and being embraced by faceless women.
As he drapes his body out of the car window, however, it’s revealed he’s riding in a hearse.
The full moon is also visible in this shot – which was previously associated with Beyoncé, Simba’s maternal guide, and his spiritual journey.
Scar reappears as Simba’s driver.
The image of Scar, whom Simba is likely hallucinating, seems to wake the prince from his reverie.
As Simba stumbles out of the car, Scar is seen holding the golden idol that Mufasa gave his son, twisting it in his hand.
In the next scene, people covered in blue-green paint are adorned with cowry shells.
Cowry shells were once used as currency throughout Africa. In some cultures, they also symbolized the strength of the ocean.
Cowry shells have retained a symbolic significance in many Black communities; they’re used for jewellery and woven into hairstyles.
According to Afrostyle magazine, “in most West African cultures, the cowry shell is regarded as a female symbol or a sign of fertility. Therefore waistbands of stringed cowry shells are worn around the hips with the belief that they increase fertility.”
Beyoncé and her dancers appear in Marine Serre catsuits, covered in the designer’s signature crescent moon pattern.
Beyoncé previously wore a Marine Serre design to sit courtside at a Houston Rockets basketball game last year.
Shatta Wale performs “Already” alongside Beyoncé.
Shatta Wale is a Ghanaian singer-songwriter and the self-proclaimed “king of African dancehall.”
Dancers from the DWP Academy in Ghana are featured in the performance of “Already.”
Beyoncé continues the blue-green colour symbolism with a Nigerian-inspired look by 5:31 Jérôme.
Designer and founder Jerome Lamaar described this look as “hand beaded Nigerian lace and silk trench/jumper hybrid and Razer sharp sunglasses” on Instagram. It was made with jade, turquoise, quartz, mother of pearl, silver hematite, and Swarovski crystals.
“As a man of colour, from the Bronx, and self made, it’s important that we acknowledge how powerful this moment is for designers of colour after fighting to be noticed,” Lamaar told Fashion Bomb Daily.
“I finally feel this project is a huge shift for designers all around the world. The magic I speak about is the art of being seen.”
Her floral catsuit was designed by Samantha Garvey.
S. Garvey is a Brooklyn-based fashion brand with Jamaican roots.
“I had only three days to create the bodysuits. I actually made multiple looks, probably 10 pieces in less than a week,” Samantha Garvey told Fashion Bomb Daily.
The yellow floral jacket was custom-made by Dallas-based brand Levenity.
“We started working on the piece last year August and it took us a total of 68 hours to complete the jacket within four days,” Levenity’s Venny Etienne told Fashion Bomb Daily.
She also wears a custom piece by Côte d’Ivoire-based designer Loza Maléombho.
“I could sit here and visualise Beyoncé in one of my pieces, I’ve done that… but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine her KILLING afrobeats dances and embrace African culture all the way through the way she did in one of my pieces!!!” the brand’s founder wrote on Instagram.
“@loza_maleombho has always stood for an image of African royalty and she embodies that perfectly!”
This brief shot seems to foreshadow the union of Simba and Nala.
Simba’s spiritual journey has been largely represented by a man in blue-green body paint, while Nala’s defining colour is a deep pink.
This shot seems to hint at Simba and Nala’s enduring connection – accented by Ugo Rondinone’s circular “sun sculptures.”
The next scene features the African-American Flag, created by David Hammons.
David Hammons is an American artist, born and raised in Illinois, who’s well known for “making sculptures from the highly charged detritus of urban African American life,” as described by the Museum of Modern Art.
His flag pieces draw from the traditional design of the American flag, reimagined with the colours of the pan-African flag: red, green, and black.
We’re reminded of Simba’s connection to his deceased father.
Dzedze, who portrayed grown-up Simba, said this was one of his favourite moments in the film.
“Though he lost his father as a child… A young man still seeking council and teaching from his father (even in spirt),”he wrote on Instagram.
This shot also revisits the reoccurring motif of chess – the push and pull of lightness and darkness, good and evil – as well as the spiritual symbolism of the moon.
Then, we’re officially introduced to grown-up Nala.
Nala is portrayed by South African singer and actress Nandi Madida. We know this is Nala because, once again, she’s wearing her signature shade of deep pink.
“I can’t say I believe in God and call myself a ‘child of God’ and then not see myself as a God. That wouldn’t make any sense,” a feminine voice narrates. “I wear my Nefertiti chain every day. I never take it off. I know my history, I did the research. I am a creator of all things.”
“You’re swimming back to yourself,” Beyoncé says. “The coast belongs to our ancestors.”
Water is a major motif throughout “Black Is King.”
Naturally, water symbolises life, since life wouldn’t exist without it. As one narrator points out, it’s also associated with “purity” and “the ability to be reborn.”
But currents, oceans, and rivers also signify movement. For Black people, it can signify pain and suffering, evoking the Middle Passage and the transportation of slaves overseas – but in “Black Is King,” the symbolism is reclaimed and used to evoke progress, forward motion, and endurance.
“Water” highlights these themes, signalling the opportunity for redemption.
Beyoncé also pays homage to the woman’s role in bringing water – essentially, bringing life – to their families and villages in many areas of the world.
Indeed, in “Black Is King,” water is spiritually transformative. But in reality, water is literally survival, and an insufficient supply poses an additional challenge for women and girls globally.
Cameroonian artist Salatiel is filmed by the shore during his performance of “Water.”
“Baby, oh, I’m not much of a talker / Baby, oh, can I drink from your water? / Baby, oh, meet me down by the river,” he sings. “We can dance to the rhythm / ‘Til the sun is high and the water runs dry.”
Pharrell performs in front of a wall of water jugs.
“Oh, darling, if you leave, I’ll go wherever you go,” he sings. “I’ll wear your heart on my sleeve so everybody here knows.”
Beyoncé wears a popular pink dress designed by Molly Goddard.
She wears a similar gown to appear alongside Nala.
Beyoncé voices Nala in the 2019 “The Lion King” remake, while Madida portrays a Nala-inspired character in “Black Is King.” Here, the two women appear side-by-side wearing Nala’s signature shade.
She also wears a yellow-green gown by Swedish-Eritrean designer Selam Fessahaye.
The ruffled piece is from the designer’s first ready-to-wear collection from August 2018.
This custom dress was a collaboration between Mia Vesper and Beyoncé’s stylist.
“Beyoncé creates entire worlds for us; she transports and invites us into her unique world that melds her music with her ethos, politics, experiences, and style,” Vesper told Paper.
“My team and I worked around the clock for eight days; the entire time we reminded ourselves we weren’t just making another dress, we were playing a part in making Beyoncé history!”
This memorable, colourful gown is from Mary Katrantzou’s Fall 2019 collection.
This shot also recalls Beyoncé’s September 2018 Vogue cover story, which included a floral image of her posing in front of a sheet.
The spread was photographed by Atlanta native Tyler Mitchell, then 23 years old, who was hand-selected by Beyoncé – and who became the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in the magazine’s 125-year history.
Her aqua-coloured gown was custom-made by Black-owned fashion house KEÄMA.
KEÄMA’s Keama Garrett told Fashion Bomb Daily that she began sketching this design in August 2019.
“I only had a few days to make the dress because of the intense fast shoot schedule,” she said. “It was the best call of my life.”
“As a young black fashion designer life has been hard trying to make it in the fashion industry, especially [at the] luxury level,” she added. “My designs aim to highlight Black women and black culture in the best light possible. We are beautiful.”
The shot recalls the baptism scene from earlier in the film, during the “Bigger” sequence.
Beyoncé and her fellow dancers, all draped in fuchsia, carry pink flowers on their heads – just like they did in the film’s previous beach scene.
In this shot, Beyoncé’s braids reach to the floor, evoking the story of Rapunzel.
It should not be lost on anyone that “Black Is King” is hosted by Disney, which has only created one Black princess in its 96-year history.
Rapunzel, famous for her long golden hair, is an official Disney princess. She’s based on a German fairy tale, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and probably inspired by the ancient Greek hero Perseus.
Beyoncé’s corset-and-denim look in this scene was created by French lingerie designer Michaela Stark.
Finally, Simba and Nala are reunited.
“We have always been wonderful,” Beyoncé narrates. “I see us reflected in the world’s most heavenly things. Black is king. We were beauty before they knew what beauty was.”
WizKid makes a cameo to perform “Brown Skin Girl.”
WizKid was memorably featured on Drake’s 2016 smash hit “One Dance.” He’s a featured artist on “Brown Skin Girl,” alongside SAINt JHN and Beyoncé’s eldest daughter Blue Ivy.
In this drapey yellow ensemble, Beyoncé evokes the Yoruba deity Osun.
As Constance Grady explains for Vox, Beyoncé has been comparing herself to Osun, or Oshun, since her 2016 visual album “Lemonade.”
“In the Yoruba cosmology of southwestern Nigeria and Benin, Oshun is the goddess, or orisha, of love, sensuality, and femininity,” Grady writes. “She is a river goddess, and one of her attributes is to bring forth sweet and fertile waters. Oshun is a mother: Her waters were central to the creation of humanity, and she looks after small children before they can speak.”
“She’s also associated with wealth and is said to love shiny things. She’s often represented draped in yellow.”
Beyoncé’s marigold-coloured ensemble was custom-made by Senegal-based sustainable fashion label Adama Paris.
These ballroom shots indict Disney for its lack of Black and brown princesses.
The ballroom clearly recalls images of classic Disney movies like “Cinderella,” which push a traditional (arguably sexist and racist) narrative of a white princess finding her prince.
Creating these scenes with all-Black debutantes disputes the racist notion that Blackness does not evoke sophistication or match with fairytale motifs.
This imagery challenges Disney to improve representation for Black women and – as the song explicitly states – brown-skinned girls.
Lupita Nyong’o makes a cameo in “Brown Skin Girl.”
The Kenyan-Mexican actress mouths along to the lyrics that mention her name: “Pretty like Lupita when the cameras close in.”
Supermodels Adut Akech and Naomi Campbell also make cameos.
Beyoncé namedrops Naomi Campbell in the song’s first verse: “Pose like a trophy when Naomi’s walkin.'”
Kelly Rowland reappears throughout the song, posing in intimate settings with Beyoncé.
Beyoncé also namedrops her fellow Destiny’s Child in verse one: “Drip broke the levee when my Kellys roll in.”
Rowland appears in solo shots, but also appears alongside Beyoncé and Beyoncé’s daughter, Blue Ivy, signalling the two women’s close relationship.
Three generations of Knowles women stand together.
Beyoncé poses with her mother, Tina, and two daughters, Blue Ivy and Rumi.
Interestingly, Beyoncé’s sister Solange is absent throughout the film.
Beyoncé evokes Queen Nefertiti with her flat-topped hairstyle.
The hairstyle also resembles a traditional headdress for the Mangbetu people, who reside in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Her sculptural black gown was custom-made by Timothy White.
African label Tongoro designed two black-and-white looks for “Brown Skin Girl.”
Only one of the custom Tongoro looks is shown in full on-screen: the elegant houndstooth “BIRIMA” dress.
South Asian model Sheerah Ravindren is featured, which many have applauded as a win for representation.
Sheerah Ravindren, who is of Sri Lankan Tamilian heritage, is featured alongside the famous Black women in “Brown Skin Girl.”
Many have applauded this subtle nod to the colorism experienced by women of colour outside of the Black community.
“Repping my Tamil/South Asian people. Such a blessing to be in this beautiful art piece that shows the beauty and power of Blackness just to be able rep the Tamil and South Asian folx for those few seconds for BEYONCE is an honour,” Ravindren wrote on Instagram.
Blue Ivy gets a solo moment to shine at the end of the song.
Blue Ivy is a featured artist on “Brown Skin Girl.”
When she was 7 years old, she recorded the song’s intro and outro: “Brown skin girl / Your skin just like pearls / The best thing in the world / I’d never trade you for anybody else, singin.'”
Tiwa Savage performs “Keys to the Kingdom,” draped in yellow and framed by geometric patterns.
The mosaic behind Tiwa Savage appears to have roots in African art, recalling the patterns and colours of Ndebele artists.
Mr Eazi also performs his verse in the upbeat song.
“Just like the tree / Just like the Chinese bamboo tree / See, eyes might not see / The greatness inside you that lies within,” he sings.
“Oya, come sit ‘pon your throne / You know you not gon’ stay down for long / Whenever in doubt and alone / Just remember, you’re the king in the kingdom.”
“Keys to the Kingdom” is the soundtrack for the wedding of Simba and Nala.
Once again, Nala’s wedding headpiece references the flat-topped crown of Queen Nefertiti.
The band’s orange outfits also recall the parade of orange-clad dancers in “Mood 4 Eva.”
The couple leaves on horseback, riding through a parking garage.
Beyoncé has previously used a parking garage as the setting for transition: In “Lemonade,” during her performance of “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
Beyoncé appears again, carrying a baby to the river, for her performance of “Otherside.”
She puts the baby in a basket and sends him (or her) down the river.
This scene ties back into the sacrificial imagery of the film’s beginning, the story of Moses, and the themes of “Bigger.”
Simba is symbolically reborn in the water, and he reclaims the idol his father gave him.
Most likely, Simba had his father’s gift all along. But he needed to embark upon a journey to feel that he deserved to claim it.
As Hunter Harris noted for Vulture, there is a subtle plot point in “Lion King” that coincides with a common theme in Beyoncé’s work: “the way loving a woman – and the love of a woman – prepares [a man] for the challenges of his life.”
It’s no coincidence that Simba’s symbolic rebirth comes after his wedding to Nala.
Mary Twala plays a Rafiki-like character, who realises Simba’s regality.
When Simba hands this woman his idol, she performs the familiar task of anointing him, much like Rafiki does for Simba in “The Lion King.” She marks his face with white paint.
“Salutations to survivors of the world,” Beyoncé narrates. “The elders are tired. To God we belong, to God we return.”
Simba ascends to divinity in Johannesburg’s Ponte City tower.
Pointe is the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa.
It was also, however, built during the era of South African apartheid, which gives it a somewhat loathsome nature.
Children with painted faces and flowers in their hair seem to recall the Omo tribes of Ethiopia.
Traditions and images of the Omo tribe were circulated with the publication of Hans Silvester’s photography book, “Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa.”
Beyoncé wears a regal, all-white look that was custom-made by Alon Livné.
Tel Aviv-born Alon Livné was raised by Jewish parents with an Egyptian background.
By the time Scar is confronted, his throne room has transformed.
This frame is strikingly familiar to Scar’s previous solo shot, but it’s markedly less regal.
Instead of the golden symbol of “The Gift” and motorcycles on either side, Scar is left with skulls.
Nija is the first artist to take the spotlight for the performance of “My Power.”
Nija has cowritten songs for stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Meek Mill, and Cardi B.
She cowrote tracks on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s joint album, “Everything Is Love,” and recently worked on Lady Gaga’s smash collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Rain On Me.”
Next, Tierra Whack delivers her show-stopping verse.
“Refer to me as a goddess, I’m tired of being modest,” she raps. “A hundred degrees, the hottest, if we being honest.”
Busiswa delivers the third verse.
“My Power” features three different languages: Xhosa, Zulu, and English.
Finally, Moonchild Sanelly delivers the outro.
“Boom, boom, check you later / I roll with the danger,” she sing-raps. “Andoyiki, nenja / Mina ndiyi-Ninja.”
Beyoncé wears a handmade embroidered piece by Ashi Studio, which took 70 hours to make.
According to Ashi Studio’s Instagram, the effect was created using “exotic bird feathers, placed one by one on the bodice.”
Beyoncé and Blue Ivy match in custom Mugler.
The rainbow jersey dresses were custom-made by the French fashion house.
Simba finally confronts and ousts Scar.
In the final moments of “My Power,” Simba stands up to Scar and runs his terrified uncle out of town.
Simba takes his rightful place on the throne.
Simba is flanked by Beyoncé and his wife, Nala.
“The king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun,” Mufasa narrates. “One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.”
He and Nala also welcome a baby.
Simba’s crown resembles a design by the Baule people in Côte d’Ivoire.
“Made of imported velvet, Baule crowns take the form of a pillbox or narrow headband and are decorated with figurative or geometric gold-leafed wooded plaques that have meaning,” reads the description of one such piece in the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection.
“This pillbox crown is topped with an elephant, a metaphor for political leadership.”
Beyoncé performs an a cappella version of “Spirit,” in a yellow outfit by Balmain.
The off-the-shoulder ensemble was part of Olivier Rousteing’s Spring 2020 collection for Balmain.
Beyoncé dedicates the film to her only son, Sir.
At the very end of the film, right before the credits roll, a dedication appears.
“Dedicated to my son, Sir Carter,” it reads. “And to all our sons and daughters, the sun and the moon bow for you. You are the keys to the kingdom.”
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