What are you really bothered by?
(@disneyplus / Instagram)
Imagine the surprise when Beyonce’s Black is King — a visual album full of all kinds of vibrant and bold fashion, music, and dance — was met with some criticism. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is above criticism, not even Beyoncé. But while some critiques were valid and had merit, there were those that didn’t.
Namely the idea that Beyoncé is supposedly capitalizing off of African culture, showing it in an unrealistic light and using it as a way to highlight herself and her wealth.
So, let’s break down why this take is...pretty messy, to say the least.
Black is King is a reimagining of The Lion King,
a movie about an African prince-turned-king and his kingdom. A movie about royalty. Therefore, displays of riches, wealth and lavishness all make sense in a visual album that sets out to tell the same tale parallelly. The only difference is that this time the story is being told with actual people instead of cute animals.
And we should be glad to see it.
In the media, Black people and Black culture are often portrayed in terms of poverty, weakness and struggle. Portrayed as other. Even worse, the roles of “gang members” and “thugs” are disproportionately played by Black actors, according to a 2016 study by Vox Media.
Meanwhile, when it comes to positions of power and authority, Black actors play only 18% of police officer roles and only 9% of roles as doctors. Not to mention Black people being the first characters to die off in countless numbers of films and often being designated the ‘token Black friend.’
And while I could go on and on about this topic of ‘representation’ (and I really mean on and on), the point is that these depictions and stereotypes are harmful, and quite frankly, are stigmas that bleed into how Black people are seen in real life.
Black is King, on the other hand, highlights the people in a display of richness, cultural glory and opulence; in a display attempting to destroy the ugly stigma and narrative had about Blackness and Africa as a supposed continent full of impoverishment and destitution.
So why is this a problem and not when the harmful aforementioned things above are frequently seen?
Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Maybe the real issue lies somewhere within you.
What are you really bothered by?
If it’s because you think Beyoncé is being capitalistic,
NEWS FLASH: All celebrities are capitalists.
Let’s be real: Beyoncé is Beyoncé. She could release her daily to-do list as a single and her fans and the general public would eat it up without question. But what you have to think about is whether or not profiting off of that capitalism is the true intention, especially when it comes to projects like this. In an interview for Good Morning America, Beyoncé talked about her goals for the film.
“My hope for the film is that it shifts the global perception of the word Black,” she said. “Black is King means Black is regal and rich in history, in purpose, and in lineage.”
Beyoncé's mother, Tina Lawson, also had a few things to say about her inspiration for the film:
It’s obvious that this wasn’t done solely for the benefit of her making more money or making herself look better.
If that were the case, she could've simply filmed everything in some stuffy box studio in LA behind a crappy green screen. She wouldn’t have started it in her backyard, took it to Johannesburg, to Ghana, to London, to Belgium, to the Grand Canyon— literally all over the world.
She wouldn’t have taken over a year to write, direct, and produce the film. She wouldn’t have made a connection with nature, using radiant, one-of-a-kind sceneries of the living world to paint her vision. She wouldn't have included so many Black creatives and minds in her work (so many minds that the credits at the end of the film were almost seven minutes long) to make the experience as authentic and culturally-structured as possible. She wouldn’t have given so many up and coming Black musicians, dancers, designers, hair stylists, and makeup artists these grandiose opportunities to tell their stories, contribute their talents and share their history.
This visual album captured the vibrant voices, the haunting spirit, the rich individuality and the exhilarating culture of Black people worldwide, and reducing that and the film itself to solely money boosting and her having some ulterior motive seems like a problem in and of itself.
“Black is King is my labor of love...I’ve given it my all and now it's yours,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books.”
Read that Instagram caption. Think about it. Beyoncé’s vision for this film is better said in her own words compared to what I — or any others — could ever say.
Personally, I felt that this Black joy, Black prosperity, Black happiness that was shown is always a reminder well-needed, especially with the way things are and have been going in 2020 today.
Of course, Blackness needs to be celebrated and looked at outside of the lens of capitalism, the media and the admittedly grey idea of rags to riches. That many Africans aren’t walking around every day with paint on their faces or with hyenas hanging out in their backyard. That the culture and the people need to be normalized and humanized so much more than what’s seen now. That Black is King doesn’t portray the everyday realism of many Black lives (but again, see point #1 where this is a reimagining of The Lion King).
But these are problems that go beyond Beyoncé, beyond more than just Twitter vendettas and shade. These are problems with the portrayal of Black folx in general.
There are so many things wrong with how Black people are looked at and seen in society — whether it be in regard to music, entertainment, beauty or basic livelihood —and that is where frustrations need to be targeted. Not solely on a Black woman’s attempt to use the platform she’s been given to further connect her community and showcase a rich cultural history with the world.
So please, be the voice of change. Speak your minds. Advocate for what you want to see. Tell your truths.
But don’t be selective with your criticisms.
Jenna Bennett is an Editorial Assistant at Rowdy Magazine. She loves online shopping, annoying her chihuahua, crying over fictional characters and watching cute animal vids on Instagram. You can reach her at @j.ennabennett for more info and awesome book recommendations.