In pure Beyoncé fashion, her latest project, Black is King, is a visual album loaded with symbols, both culturally impactful and metaphysical alike. To shed light on truths recently exposed all over again with the horrendous murder of George Floyd, Queen Bey amplifies the nobility that is deeply embedded in Black people around the globe. As we have seen her do in other cinematic projects such as Lemonade and Homecoming, much of Beyoncé’s singing, dancing, and style decode symbolism of Black pride, empowerment, heritage, strength, and power.
Surely you’ve reveled in the glorious diaspora style-play by now. But if you seek another excuse to re-watch Black is King for a tenth time, here is your excuse. Below are some powerful messages, fashion choices, and narratives to point out about the epic creation with nods to creative visionaries on Bey’s squad such as Ibra Ake, Jake Navam, Pierre Debusschere, Dikayl Rimmasch, Kwasi Fordjour, Jenn Kniru, and Blitz Bazawule, to name a few.
The Divine Feminine
Also referred to as Mother Earth, Beyoncé has no problem depicting herself as the Black Madonna or Divine Feminine — something she has alluded to in previous performances, including the 2017 Grammys where we saw a pregnant Bey’s head adorned with a gold halo similar to historic religious imagery associated with Madonna. In Black is King, her face is painted on a Renaissance-like portrait in which she holds her twins, Sir and Rumi, in both arms while Blue Ivy looks on, gently caressing her mother’s hand as she sits in traditional garb symbolic of the Virgin Mary. In Yoruba culture and spirituality, twins, called Ibeji or Ibeyi, are believed to possess mystical qualities that are granted protection by the Orisha Shango, an African-based religion with stories rooted in creativity, authority, and healing powers. Bey’s performances throughout her Already video show the singer donning many different crowns, including a zebu horn headpiece designed by Jerome Lamaar, reflecting an ethereal royalty that roots itself back to the Motherland from which we all derive. In the opening scene to Bigger, we notice everyone dressed in white–this has been a popular societal norm in many African churches throughout the continent. Bey wets the head of the baby she coddles — exhibited in traditional name ceremonies — to pay yet another tribute to spirituality of the Divine within African cultures.
Between showcasing Johannesburg’s drag race culture, to enthusiastic Afrobeats choreography, to reimagining Salvador Dalí’’s iconic The Skull as lions sporting Marine Serre’s crescent moon bodysuits, Bey’s ode to the continent of Africa is both complex and simplistic, paying homage to different colorful qualities of the unique countries that make it whole. The musician’s cowhide-incorporated scenes are inspired by the women of South Africa’s Xhosa ethnic group, while men jumping up and down in matching cobalt blue suits are reminiscent of the adumu dance, an iconic performance put on by the Maasai tribe. In Ja Ara e, Southern Nigeria native Burna Boy is featured, along with Mmanwu, a traditional masquerade from his hometown.
A Woman’s Strength
In My Power, the world’s oldest woman bodybuilder, Ernestine Shepherd, 84, makes a cameo representing the ageless, timeless beauty that a Black woman carries. In African American history, Madame CJ Walker’s story is one that emulates true legacy blended with dignity and innovation. In Black is King, there is a nod to the first America’s first woman self-made millionaire with a replica of her house in Mood 4 Eva. In her Ja Ara e video, we notice that during what has historically been known as a mens-only traditional masquerade, be inclusive to women performers. In Brown Skin Girl, Black women powerhouses Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, and Blue Ivy make darling cameos to further emphasize the beauty and strength in building community around women supporting women. Throughout the entire visual, a Black man painted in blue follows Bey around, dancing and gleaming at her side. Played by Nigerian-born self-taught model and choreographer Stephen Ojo, “Blue Man” portrays curiosity, protection, and embrace. His hue is also thought to symbolize haint blue, a United States Southern traditional blue-green shade set associated with the Gullah in Georgia. What better way to portray the conscience of a powerful, confident woman (like Beyoncé, no less) than a masculine-presenting physique that is solid but flexible, gentle but impenetrable.
Africa: Our Past, Our Now, Our Future
While symbols of Afrofuturism sprinkle throughout the supporting visuals of Black is King, Pan-Africanism pride is showcased as well. Marcus Garvey, a famous political activist and the flag’s creator, who also happened to be of Jamaican descent, is paid homage with a scene halfway into the visual. Jamaica’s Synchro Club, a group of competitive synchronized swimmers (now known as artistic swimmers) from Port Antonio, Jamaica, teamed up with Bey for a tantalizing scene. Everything comes full circle when Beyoncé sends a baby in a basket down the river with a voiceover claiming, “Your roots and your story will be reborn.” As images of strong, powerful, dynamic African people are trickled throughout this entire visual album, we cannot forget where we come from, as well as where we are headed as a community — as a people. Just like in The Lion King, which Bey co-starred as the voice of Nala, Black is King teaches us the importance of overcoming systemic adversity in order to find ourselves back home as the royal, noble beings we are.
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