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Leave it to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter to coordinate the release of “Black Is King” — a visual album produced across three continents and inspired by a $1.6 billion-grossing blockbuster — during a global pandemic. The multi-hyphenate star’s latest visual album is based on her soundtrack “The Lion King: The Gift,” which was released last year alongside the film.
Unlike some of the star’s past work, audiences had a month to prepare for its release on Disney+, and the “celebratory memoir” about the Black experience is now available to stream for subscribers around the world. (Incidentally, though the film celebrates African culture and includes Ghanian, Nigerian, South African, and Cameroonian collaborators, Disney+ is not available in Africa and instead the film was broadcast on television across the continent.)
Artists from “The Gift” — including Jay-Z, Childish Gambino, Pharrell Williams, and African stars Wizkid, Shatta Wale, Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Tiwa Savage, Tekno, Yemi Alade, and more — all appear in the film, and so do stars including Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell, and Knowles-Carter’s daughters Blue Ivy and Rumi, plus her mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson.
Don’t have Disney+ yet? You can sign up for just $6.99 per month (or $69.99 per year) here. You’ll have instant access to “Black Is King,” both versions of “The Lion King,” the entire Disney and Marvel movie slates, and original shows including “The Mandalorian.” Disney is also offering a bundle of Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for $12.99, a savings of 25% off the individual prices.
The universally lauded production took place across North America, Europe, and Africa over the course of a year under the direction of Knowles-Carter herself, plus co-director Kwasi Fordjour and directors Emmanuel Adjei, Blitz Bazawule, Pierre Debusschere, Jenn Nkiru, Ibra Ake, Dikayl Rimmasch, and Jake Nava.
IndieWire critic Jude Dry called “Black Is King” “a particularly genius sleight of hand” that only Beyoncé could pull off, particularly considering the fact that she worked within the Disney machine to produce a film and album that celebrated African culture from a Black American perspective — something “The Lion King” itself, produced, written, and directed by white men, didn’t do.
In addition to the featured artists, several of the “Lion King” stars make voice cameos via snippets of dialogue intertwined throughout the piece, including James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright, Seth Rogen, and Billy Eichner.
The end of the film includes a dedication to one of Beyoncé’s children: “To my son, Sir Carter. And to all our sons and daughters, the sun and the moon bow for you, you are the keys to the kingdom.”
And in the full, 18-page credits for the visual album, the singer/director thanked not only her friends and family and coworkers, but she also included a dedication “To the Black diaspora across every continent – thank you. For creating, upholding, and driving culture against insurmountable odds. You inspire the world. Honoring all who have been part of this journey, and those we have lost along the way.”