Beyoncé. Picture: Beyoncé.com
Beyoncé. Picture: Beyoncé.com

'Black Is King' is a masterpiece and that’s on period

By Jamal Grootboom Time of article published Aug 3, 2020

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Beyoncé debuted her highly anticipated “Black Is King” visual album over the weekend and reignited the ongoing diaspora wars in the process.

You might be wondering why this happened since “Black Is King” has been recognised by many others as one of Beyoncé’s best pieces of work.

It all started when the trailer dropped in June and the conversation quickly shifted from excitement to a large number of Twitter users fixing their Twitter fingers to share think pieces and hot takes about a 40-second trailer.

Phrases such as "the Wakandafication of Africa" and Beyoncé’s capitalising of an “African aesthetic” were thrown around even though all we saw was a couple of scenes out of context.

And even though several African creatives, both in front and behind the scenes announced their involvement in the project, it still didn’t dampen the loud voices sharing their contextless thoughts.

As July 31 came closer, it was also announced that the visual album film would debut the following day on MultiChoice channel M-Net and Canal+ for the African continent, since Disney+ isn’t available yet.

Things seemed to have simmered down until it officially dropped and the mood online quickly shifted from African creatives, including dancers, stylists and actors, in the film celebrating this moment as another round in the diaspora wars.

For me, the film is the “Formation” hitmaker’s best work so far with regards to her visual albums. The way she used the skeleton of “The Lion King” story as the jumping-off point to highlight a side to the continent that is rarely shown was a brilliant move.

Beyoncé’s similarly to “Lemonade” narrates the story through poetry as we followed “Simba” as he ventures into the world.

She again wove in several themes with regards to blackness and black identity, while the African-American experience was the focus of “Lemonade”.

Here she made it about Africa and not in a cultural appropriative way, but rather using her platform to give creatives from across the continent an opportunity to showcase their wealth of talent through her lens.

“Black Is King” is a feast for the eyes with beautiful cinematography and styling choices. The way Beyoncé was able to weave several cultural references from across the continent is something to behold.

It really is an incredible visual feast for several reasons, but it’s how she was able to tell this story without centring the Beyoncé brand, instead taking a backseat to highlight the talented people who make up “The Gift“, and by extension ”Black Is King“.

This was beautiful and many people involved in the project were given a platform that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Beyoncé's approach.

However, the discourse online seemed to have two opposites with many African-American fans especially seemingly coming to rain on our parade, while Africans were revelling in this momentous occasion.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with critiquing Beyoncé, or any artist's work, but when it comes to the Queen Bey the hot takes always seem to come from a place of hate and lack nuance or context. Specifically, with regards to understanding the concept that two realities can exist at once.

American rapper No Name especially left a bad taste in several African BeyHive member's mouths after she posted: “We love an african aesthetic draped in capitalism. hope we remember the blk folks on the continent whose daily lives are impacted by u.s imperialism. if we can uplift the imagery i hope we can uplift those who will never be able to access it. black liberation is a global struggle.”

Essentially making herself the spokesperson for Africans and wanting to remind everyone that Africa is a poverty-stricken continent so don’t let this little movie make you forget.

And while there is validity in some of her statement there are several potholes and inaccuracies too, such as her calling it an “African aesthetic”. And when African corrected her, the “Israel” rapper dug her heels in refusing to acknowledge the flaws in her statement.

There were other think pieces that ranged from weird to downright laughable.

But the overall feeling from many Twitter users was that many African-Americans fans were so used to their Black experience being the centre point of a cultural moment that they didn’t know who to process a proudly, unabashedly black film about Africa that wasn’t Wakanda or filled with stereotypes which left them perplexed as to process how they fit in.

The thing is no one ever said this film was going to fix our problems as Africans, however, seeing how grateful the people involved are and knowing that this opportunity will lead to so many doors opening is something that deserves celebration.

Yes, we can talk about dismantling capitalism and fighting against racism, but this was out moment as Africans to shine on a global stage thanks to, possibly, the greatest entertainer of all time. And that is something worth celebrating!

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