Black is King or a marvelous narration of black pride that displays black beauty, strength and culture through Disney’s Lion king protagonist Simba, journey with the music of The Gift curated by Beyoncé. The film premiered the 31th of July on Disney+ and the next day on African platform like DSTV, Canal+ …
After getting amazed by these high quality visuals with dances, rhythm and researched aesthetics with the collaboration of our amazing creatives from African countries through direction, fashion and filming production we have to point out and show those references that made us lift up from our chairs.
The film was in work since 2019, proving again that Beyoncé’s NDA contracts have enough power to silence anybody. We’ve seen colors, Afrofuturism aesthetic but most importantly blackness through ages and all over the world.
Beyoncé represents an ancestor that will follow the young king into his trip and teach him about the circle of life and witness every moment of his ascending to be a king despite sadness, anger and lost of his own self, from his dreams, and his new accomplished life with Nala and their new baby. In this narrative Beyonce amplifies women gift to give life and show that women are in the center of the creation of the world.
Through African Tradition
The symbol of White
The first scene revolves around Baptism, like the birth of Simba in the circle of life. We can see ancestors, priests sagging and priestess with Calabasas washing children faces and feet, holding flowers and praying. In many African cultures white means “Purity” and also remind us of Komians women in Akan societies, these women considered as medium were able to be in contact with the spirit world and ours. They wore white, had nude feet and could see the future and always accompanies the King and royal family in their reign through protection and even afterwards, whe he passes.
The ceremony use body paint on the young king by his ancestors that solidify his status, and ritual of purification as young king, it reminds us of kaolin (White Clay) that is used in ritual and symbolize joy (Dan people with yangbah dance), peace and mourn, cultural ceremonies in Akan societies and all over west African tribes. Even the Fang of Cameroon and Myene in Gabon, the dead will cross the river of tears to become a spirit , in Gabon the Ogooue they use white clay also to represent ghosts.
But white is also refered in ancient Egypt as mourning, it symbolize death through mummification of passed pharaohs, shroud that can be seen in Nile video clip that represents “The king has died” after Simba’s naivety and fight against the image of funeral always symbolized by black in western societies.
The use of Calabasas is really symbolic, a non-edible fruit that grows in Africa and America that isused to create utensil, musical instrument (balafon, maracas, djembe), its round form is a symbol of cosmic energy and women that are the perfect recipient for holding life. For example in Yoruba’s Orisha myth, Odudua and Obatala merge like two half Calabasas form the universe and represent the duality of the creation of the world.
Snakes can be seen as evil creatures in western religious belief, but in many tribes in Benin, togo vodun, and even dogon tribe where they represent their past immortal ancestors, they are seen as sacred, protectors. The Nommo androgynous twins of dogon is a python.
African spirituality is rooted in animal source of power and image of spirit and are used to portrays divinity and venerence. We can see a bull head of batammaribain Benin and Togo, mursi women in Ethiopia, the bull was a symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt whose horns were worn by Hathor goddess of love, family and also by Odiani people of igbo.
Golden and Divine status
Many great scenes representing the masai jumping contest in suit From Kenya and Tanzania. We’ve seen lot of wraps display in plenty of scenes, represent symbol of marriage, status. The lip disc from east Africa, popular in Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and are symbol of social status too.
The Akan crown, golds and umbrella Ohenekyinnie that means authority over his people. Omo people in Ethiopia, Guere in cote d’ivoire, mastered the art of body painting as cultural expression in Africa and flowers head pieces.
Scenes about balance reminds of Maat one of the most known goddess in Egypt, without forgetting Gods in Vodun Liza and Mawu through he portrayal of good and bad, light and dark that cannot exist without one another.
Adinkra symbol, one of the first written languages from Akan (Most popular in Ghana), is represented in this scene, and this sign is a symbol of wealth, power abundance and solidarity.
Red ochre by Himba women in Naminia mixed with cow milk is used to to protect their skin from the sun, give them a beautiful rich hydrated skin. Their thick hair symbolize fertility. In the film they are symbolising duality of male female spirits/ancestors .
We can see art from the Ndebele of south Africa, Masai jewelries of kenya, celebration of love and return back to the values of motherland that is the real royalty, not the crown and artifacts.
This visual send us far than earth, but to the creation of the world through the Dogon people, a tribe living in west Africa (Mali, Cote d’ivoire…) that refused the arrival of islam and Christianity and have a belief deeply rooted into nature, celestial bodies as the universe and their knowledges of space, astronomy till this day fascinating modern day scientist. In their spirituality the universe was created by the Amma and this God created the earth who was a women and fertilizes her to creates Nommo an androgenous twin deities and its first inhabitants to represens duality. They even have masks that represent the movement of the sun called Sirige. Beyonce represents every celestial mentioned in their tale like the stars, the sun, Sirius, Comet, Black Hole, the pleiade seven sisters to portray how the dance of all these bodies created the world like the dogon speak of in their oral tradition.
We can see green man that represents water genie in Bambara, dogon, Azuza of west Africa (Ghana, benin, togo) pygme genie male, Congo with ireyi cult Toula in Niger, also created by the foam of the sea.
We can see Kanaga masks wore by the Awa society, a mask that is used in a ceremony called Dama and establish the connection between the earth and the sky to usher the sprits and accompany the dead into the spirit world that show this vision of the creation of the world to the young king and his ancestors portrayed by the stars. They always pay homage to their first ancestors like mufasa showing his ancestors to simba.
Representation of Black Beauties
In brown skin girl, The film is pushing Black girls and woman in Disney spaces and is a real statement on universial beauty that misrepresented in its film and Disney princesses. Those girls that beauty is and always have been undeniable through their versatility and diverse characteristics, the song praises darker skin in this colorist society, an ode to black beauty portrayed through Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell. She portrays young girls in contemporary princess outfit thinking about cendrillon ballroom, reference to Rapunzel with huge braided hair, Beyonce included herself as Rapunzel, to celebrate versatility in Afro.
We’ve Fulani braids, bantu knots , Nigerian hair scuplture, hair from Hamer people of Ethiopia, mangbetu with lipombo skull elongation which is a sign of beauty intelligence and power making us think about Nefertiti representing beauty through ages.
Beauty universiality and blackness through the world with south/east Asia where colorism is harsh and economy allow the commercialization and encouragement of bleaching.
African Women bodies
Busiswa wearing Isicholo of zulu, is celebrating african woman curves that have been demonized and sexualized all these years reference to Saartjie Baartman a south african enslaved woman that lived a terrible life because of racism. The hips movement like the earth reminds of assiko dance in Cameroon or dances in Congo that are centered on the hips.
African Spirituality and water (Like Fela says water no gets enemy)
Water is source of life, purification to baptize, regeneration and is important in the circle of life (Ships were seen as trip to the afterlife).
Its very important in African spirituality. We’ve seen her dance with water, on water (river) mazina maganda an Uganda dance to vibrate and bring life to the water. She pays homage to african deities that are connected with water , the orishas from Yoruba mythology, that she mentionned that accompanied the young king through his fight for enlightment, we can mention Yemaya (igbo) also Mami watta in Benin, Togo, vodun, Faro in mali link to Niger river and has a strong relationship with water through music reminds of blues,in saheli tribe where water is a necessity which they are always seeking for.. We remember that the Nile was the center that explain how African migrated through the whole continent, Abla Pokou that sacrified her child to save her people (Baoule myth), water has memory and recover the truth and hold our spirituality, water and woman share life that they give. In mali they have a strong relationship with water, nobody can exist without water. The image of African women taking charges on their head in calabases walking kilometers to get safe water from well or rivers for their family.
Through Lion King
In Mood 4 eva, we can see a display of eccentricity and careless and fantasy world that reminds African dictators through presidential wealthy mandate like Mobutu and Marie Antoinette in RDC with his cheetah famous hat. Its represent the famous phrase “Hakuna Matata” which is a celebration of life. The animal prints are here to remind us of the animals in Lion King the film, we have the morning report by Zazu reference with beyonce reading her morning paper, and the flamingo scene with synchonised dancers in the pool with pink. This dream will send Simba into a world where he will only see his fantasies that scramble his perspection of reality and build his illusion of happiness to ignore his worries.
We can see Beyonce in a tree as Rafiki in Already and others scene th Lion King’s fans will love.
Black is king is a counterbalance narrative towards the hate, incomprehension towards Black people in the world ! Lets seek wealth, real royalty that are not represented by monarchy but by our community values, knowledge and love for each other.