Beyoncé has arrived.
On July 31, Beyoncé released Black Is King exclusively on Disney Plus. The film is a visual album that centers around the music on The Lion King: The Gift, which is the original soundtrack for Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King.
While the film was intended to be released in tandem with The Gift, Beyoncé said in a lengthy post on Instagram that the project serves a “greater purpose” now.
“The events of 2020 have made the film’s vision and message even more relevant, as people across the world embark on a historic journey. We are all in search of safety and light. Many of us want change,” she wrote. “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. 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.”
Here are the biggest takeaways from Beyoncé’s new visual album Black Is King.
This isn’t a new album
Despite some early predictions that assumed the film would feature brand new songs, Black Is King is not a new album. The hour-and-a-half-long film serves as a visual companion to the 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift, which was curated in support of Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King. The film includes visuals for popular songs like “POWER,” “MOOD 4 EVA,” and “ALREADY,” but the track order is noticeably different from the record. There are new elements to look forward to, though. In addition to the stellar visuals, there are new interludes including poetry by Warsan Shire. Beyoncé also performs a semi-acapella version of “Spirit.” —Jessica McKinney
There’s a big focus on location
You’ve heard of International Hov? Well, Black Is King brings us International Bey. The project was filmed in New York, Los Angeles, London, Ghana, Nigeria, Belgium, and South Africa. All of the locations are shown off to eye-popping effect. It’s no wonder, with so many pit stops, that the film took a whole year to make. —Shawn Setaro
Beyoncé enlisted a whole lot of Pan-African creatives
Not only did Bey film in different countries in Africa, but she made sure to use African talent both in front of and behind the camera. The superstar “partnered with talent in each destination—casting local actors and dancers in many of the videos,” Vogue explained. South Africa is represented by everyone from actors to designers; Nigeria is responsible for co-directors, DPs, and more. Ghanaian singer Shatta Wale is featured along with local dancers (check a delightful behind-the-scenes video of the making of that section here), and the director of that segment, Joshua Kissi, is himself Ghanaian-American. There’s much joy to be found in searching social media for celebrations from local crew and fans—including a notable post from Nigerian creative director and co-director Ibra Ake that jokes about being “afraid of the hive.” —Shawn Setaro
Everyone showed up
Black Is King is definitely a family affair. The film features many of the album’s collaborators, including Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, Jessie Reyez, Tiwa Savage, and Mr. Eazi. There are also cameos from Beyoncé's friends and family. The most surprising appearances arrive in the video for “BROWN SKIN GIRL.” Model Naomi Campbell, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, and Beyoncé’s former groupmate Kelly Rowland all show up during their name drops in the song (“Pose like a trophy when Naomi’s walkin’/ She need an Oscar for that pretty dark skin/ Pretty like Lupita when the cameras close in/ Drip broke the levee when my Kellys roll in”). Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles Lawson, and Bey’s eldest daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, also make several appearances throughout the film. At this point in her career, it probably doesn’t take much for Beyoncé to pull the top acts in Hollywood, but the number of cameos she was able to secure for Black Is King is still impressive, to say the least. —Jessica McKinney
She reunites with many past collaborators
Beyoncé found collaborators all over the world for Black Is King, but for a bunch of key roles, she didn’t have to travel far at all. A whole gang of people who have worked on past projects of hers ranging from music videos to commercials to photo shoots to articles and beyond stepped up for this film. Sometimes the relationship was relatively new: BIK co-writer Clover Hope was the “as told to” for Bey’s 2018 Vogue article. Sometimes it went way back—co-director Jake Nava was with Bey when she was “Crazy in Love” (he directed the videos for that track and “Single Ladies.”) Many veterans of more recent film projects like Lemonade and Homecoming returned as well, as did people who worked on a personal favorite of mine, the Godard-inspired Bang Bang short from the On the Run Tour. —Shawn Setaro
Blue Ivy is a star
There is a lot of starpower in Black Is King, but the biggest star of them all is undoubtedly Blue Ivy Carter. The eight-year-old has been making cameos in her parents’ work since she was an infant, but now fans finally get a closer look at the Carter family’s youngest talent. Blue makes several appearances early on in the film, but her performance in the video for “POWER” is getting her a lot of attention online. In the video, Blue flaunts her attitude and acting skills, while mimicking her mom’s dance moves. It’s one of the first instances where fans get to see Blue Ivy’s personality and style. If she doesn’t have one already, it’s probably time to get Blue her own agent. —Jessica McKinney
Beyoncé continues to use her platform to celebrate blackness
Black Is King is a tribute to the beauty of Black people and culture. Beyoncé celebrates many aspects of Black culture: from the teams of creatives enlisted behind the scenes to the cast members, shoot locations, and fashion choices. Her effort to use her platform to uplift her community and speak on political topics has been a centerpiece of her artistry since she released Lemonade in 2016. But in the last year especially, the singer has dedicated her music, social media, and brand to celebrating Blackness. —Jessica McKinney