Summer 2020 has, we can probably all agree, been universally dreary and underwhelming due to the ongoing pandemic that's forced many of us to cancel or massively scale back any plans we might have had. But it's not over yet. Global superstar Beyoncé could be about to save us from this scourge of disappointment and boredom with her latest project.
Things can only get better when Queen Bey injects this sad excuse for a summer with a dose of her legendary creative vision brought to life with the requisite accompanying bangers.
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Beyoncé's new visual album Black Is King is streaming on Disney Plus. As always when it comes to Beyoncé's visual projects, this will be event TV for the streaming age — a Disney exclusive that could rival Hamilton, if not in streaming figures, then at least in cultural impact.
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It follows Beyoncé's work as Nala in Disney's CGI Lion King remake, which came out exactly a year ago, on July 31, 2019, and it was written, produced and directed by the star. On the film's IMDb page the only cast member currently listed is Beyoncé herself, but other cast members include Lupita Nyong'o, Kelly Rowland, Pharrell Williams and Naomi Campbell, along with the star's husband, Jay-Z, and her daughter Blue Ivy.
All we really know of the film so far is what we've seen in the trailers. It hasn't been screened anywhere else before it hits Disney's streaming service later this week.
What we do know is that Black Is King is based on the music from Beyoncé's 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift — a sort of alternative soundtrack for the film — and was produced by her own production company, Parkwood Entertainment, over the past year. From the trailer and description, we know it's a story-driven film exploring themes of identity, strength and race with lessons drawn directly from The Lion King.
The storyline appears to follow the journey of a young boy who is "formed in the heat of the galaxy." There are some clues to the parallels with the Lion King in the trailer, including the lines: "I laugh in the face of danger" and "Run away and never return." Both are lifted directly from the source material.
Black Is King also looks to be a visual feast — a mishmash of cinematography styles and diverse settings all knitted together by Beyoncé's distinctive soundscape. In an Instagram post, Beyoncé described it as a "passion project" and "labor of love."
"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," said the star.
She added that she spent a lot of time absorbing the lessons of past generations and the rich history of different African customs. In one trailer she is seen reading Robert Farris Thompson's 1971 book Black Gods and Kings, which records the art history of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.
Beyoncé is no stranger to picking out and paying homage to specific elements of Black tradition in her work. In her 2019 Netflix film Homecoming, the star honored historically Black colleges and universities in her Coachella set. Likewise in her 2016 visual album Lemonade, one of the major themes was the historical impact of slavery on Black love and relationships.
See also: Disney Plus: Everything to know about Disney's streaming service
But not everyone is convinced that Beyoncé's vision will deliver. A number of Black feminist critics have questioned whether the film appropriates and conflates African cultures by relying too heavily on tropes, while not portraying a full range of Black identities.
The same critics do acknowledge that their early judgments are based on a trailer of less than two minutes and have expressed their keenness to give Black Is King a chance. These early reactions to the trailer suggest that this exploration of Blackness from one of the foremost Black artists of our time will form the basis of an intense discussion over identity, race and culture in the coming days and weeks.
Beyoncé's partnership with Disney is also understood to extend beyond this one film, so we can expect more to come from the star. In the meantime, check out our Black Is King: How to Watch guide and a very happy Bey-day to one and all for Friday.
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