Saturday 1 August 2020

Black is King (Movie Review)

As anyone who'd read my review for the movie might remember, I wasn't the biggest fan of the 2019 The Lion King remake. I felt the movie paled in comparison to the 1994 original, and lost something vital to its narrative in its pursuit of hyperrealism. The one aspect of the movie I remembered liking though was its soundtrack album, The Lion King: The Gift. The album served as a showcase for a broad spectrum of musical styles that represented contemporary African music as a whole.

So I always felt it was a bit of a shame and a waste that the actual movie never quite managed to live up to the music it inspired. Well, it seems Beyoncé must have felt that way as well because she has gone and made Black is King, a movie that is both a musical film and a visual album of sorts, serving as a worthier companion to the music she'd curated for The Lion King: The Gift.

Her movie is effectively a retelling of the same fall-from-grace story we saw in The Lion King, but this time it is told in a contemporary African setting, with a dash of surrealism thrown in. So instead of Simba the lion, we have a young African prince, who is forced out of his ancestral home and must journey through a strangely foreign land in search of answers and himself. He is guided by the spirits of his ancestors, and on the road to redemption, he discovers love and a greater purpose.

All that sounds simple enough on paper, but it is in the execution of its story that the movie truly shines. Every single frame of this movie is stunning to look at, with costumes and sets that showcase the richness of African culture, and breathtaking cinematography that manages to capture all of it in jaw-dropping detail. Beyoncé has already proven that she has an eye for such things in her past work, but never has that talent felt as remarkable as it does here.

Then there's the music accompanying all those shiny visuals. The movie contains a good number of songs from the soundtrack album, including fan favorites like Brown Skin Girl and Already. It features appearances from the likes of Jay-Z and Pharrel, and Nigerian acts like Mr. Eazi, Yemi Alade and Wizkid, to name a few. Each artist brings something fresh to the table during their performances, ensuring that the film never starts to feel stale as we move from scene to scene.

The choreography is of course as you would expect it, with Beyoncé bringing all that high energy she has come to be known for. There were so many great performances on display, that I find it hard to pick a favorite one to highlight. I guess I have to at least mention Find Your Way Back, with its sweeping dessert backdrop and celestial overtones. The song was already great to begin with, but paired with the stunning visuals, it somehow manages to breathe new life and meaning into it.

And that is the best way to describe the movie as a whole. It elevates the music in the best way possible, and the fact that it also functions as a celebration of African culture and what it means to be black and proud is just icing on an already delicious cake. Go and watch Black is King, if you haven't already. It doesn't matter if you're a Beyoncé fan or not. There's plenty to love here and I couldn't recommend it highly enough.

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