This post is a critique on the Black is King discourse. I am a whole Stan. This critique doesn’t come from a place of hate or jealousy. Though this critique is centered around Black is King and Beyoncé, this critique can apply to anyone or any project that makes wealth and royalty synonymous with African cultures. Also this critique is more on how we as viewers consume the art than it is about Beyoncé.
Spoiler Alert. I don’t dive too much into the film, but I do reveal and speak on elements of it.
Two things can be true. I feel like people on both sides are missing the points or at least not arguing them. Black is King is beautiful and moving, but at the same time it can be damaging depending on how we consume it.
It is vital to acknowledge that Black Is King / The Gift is Lion King. It follows the same story. It’s dedicated to Beyoncé’s son Sir. It’s about how he is destined for African Royalty but gets lost in the “real world” and how he finds his way back. Beyonce is not telling a story of Africa and its 54 countries. She also is not telling a story that is accurate or relatable to the majority of people (Which she is not required to do).
Without drawing or jumping to conclusions, It is puzzling that with all of the ancestral imagery used in BiK, the queerness of it was left out or not at least visible. Our ancestors in pre-colonial Africa didn’t live in a heteronormative world. Their gender was expressed fluidly. Homosexuality was practiced. In some cultures, Same-sex acts were seen as ceremonial, and that same-sexuality was thought to have a mystical power to it. All you have to do is google “was pre-colonial Africa gay” to find this information. I do not know the BiK process, but its weird BiK was Heteronormative. It’s ignorant to assume nobody in the film was queer, but nothing about it was visibly queer.
It is problematic for us as African Americans or anyone of the African diaspora to assume BiK is the Africa we’d experience. It’s arrogant to claim that we want to reconnect with Africa but stop at “ancestral royalty” or the very broad and vague cultural aesthetics depicted in BiK. That is very dismissive and ignorant. Africa is a continent of 54 countries, with about 3000 tribes and 2000 languages. Africa is not one culture. Africa is made of many beautiful, vibrant, and diverse cultures.
We have to conceptualize how vast African Cultures are. I know South Floridians know that South Florida ain’t like the rest of Florida. We know when it comes to Dade and Broward, although they are counties right next to each other, as soon as you cross county line you are in a different place culturally. We understand this due to the proximity. Knowing how different and diverse the 3,754 square miles of dade and Broward is, means we shouldn’t generalize the 11.73 million square miles of Africa.
To Beyoncé’s credit, it would be impossible to represent all of Africa. I’m sure she tried to represent as much as Africa as she could in BiK. I’m sure she researched different African cultures, traditions, and practices during the process of making BiK. In this case, I think the problem falls on the viewer, especially the non-African viewer. We have to understand that the “Aesthetic” we see in BiK is not an accurate one. BiK uses and mixes many different cultural elements to form its “aesthetic”. Africa’s cultures are too vibrant and diverse for us to accept BiK as “our” Africa. Though the pieces of culture and the people are real, BiK exists in a fictional land. That is not exactly Africa.
If we want to reclaim our African roots and be proud of them, we cannot stop at “ancestral royalty.” We can’t cherry-pick and wear it like a medal. African cultures are soo much more than that. If we want to reconnect with our roots, we should figure out what country and or tribe our ancestry draws back. Learn that culture and dive into it. Maybe visit if possible. But we can’t stop at the monolithic Africa shown in BiK.
Also, realistically we wouldn’t all be Royalty in Africa. That’s impossible. To Beyoncé’s credit, the “royalty” she depicts in the BiK would be accurate for her and her family… because she’s a billionaire. As said before, she tells her story, not ours. We can’t accept that as canon to our lives. It’s very similar to the “American dream.” If we know the American dream is not real, then we cannot cling to the “African royalty dream” either. Just how we are everyday people here in America, we’d be everyday people in Africa. There is no problem with that either. It just more of a reason to try and reconnect to the countries and or tribes we came from because the story in BiK isn’t ours.
To my understanding, the purpose of BiK was not only to tell Beyoncé’s story but also to empower African diaspora. To show the beauty and power of it all. I think BiK accomplished that to an extent. I know Brown Skin Girl was beautiful and brought me to tears while watching it. BiK has great intentions, but it makes Africa’s beauty synonymous with Royalty. That is problematic and dismissive. I understand that the intention was to get people to stop viewing Africa as a poor dark dystopia, but swinging to extreme wealth isn’t very representative either. Africa is beautiful and powerful not because of Royalty but because of the vibrant and diverse cultures made up and represented through all classes of people, especially the masses that aren’t Royalty. The same way Black Capitalism will not free us; African Royalty will not do it either.
Yes, it’s good to see black people in higher places and doing great things but not to the point where our self-worth is reliant on us coming from Royalty and possibly becoming successful. We shouldn’t love ourselves solely because our ancestors were Royalty. That is damaging. Our self-love and worth CANNOT be conditional. That frame of thought feeds into black exceptionalism. Ypipo tend to be okay with the “good blacks” the ones “making something of themselves” while hating black people who aren’t educated, successful, or wealthy.
For us, it is not a simple decision to make something of ourselves. We don’t have the same opportunities available. No matter how hard we work, we’re actively being oppressed, exploited, and kept out of the same structures that ypipo use to determine our value. Basing our worth on the fact that we could be exceptional, is not it. Our worth shouldn’t be based on how profitable and productive we are in society. Self-love and worth MUST come from within. It has to come from a place that can’t be calculated or measured. A place that is accessible to all of us. Royalty and riches are NOT accessible.
We, as black people, need to love ourselves because we deserve it. Because we are human. Because the self-hate we experience was taught to us. Because we are making an effort to unlearn that same hate. Because we are beautiful. Because we are full of joy and spirit. Because we write the rules to our existence. We do not have to be excellent or exceptional for love. Love is not a reward given to the highest scorer. Love is for all of us.
Our worth is not based on who we come from, who we are, or who we may become. We are worth it because we are. As we celebrate BiK, remember that as important as it is to see black people be extraordinary, it’s more important to know that we do not have to be extraordinary to have worth or to deserve love and respect.
It is only right that I mention the entire movie is not draped in African royalty and wealth. It’s really the overall framework and theme that is. As said before the film mirrors Lion King. The boy spends most of the film in the “real world”. We see African people and African cultures in a more authentic light. We see their joy, spirit, beauty, unity and love. For me, that was more powerful than any of the displays of wealth.
Mood 4 Eva is probably the only scene that really makes wealth synonymous with African Culture. Again there’s is nothing wrong with it. It is just how we should consume it. It’s possible anyone could live that life, but we aren’t worthless because we don’t live that life. African royalty is not the bar that we should be measuring ourselves to. Enormous wealth shouldn’t be a priority of ours. Love, Happiness, peace of mind & spirit, stability and community should be a priority of ours. Anything else is a bonus.
Beyoncé and BiK does a great job of showing us both wealth and everyday life. One would ask why aren’t any of her critiques address that. Well if there’s a hole in your boat you aren’t going to talk about how beautifully the sails are catching wind. Also I believe there are some critics that haven’t seen the film. The majority of critics are the same hateful people that dogged Blue Ivy. Some people just simply hate Beyoncé. Some critics are baseless conspiracy theorist. Some critics are centered on Beyoncé which I think is wrong. BiK is all about how the viewer consumes it. She can’t make a perfect film and spoon feed us everything she’s learned in making the film. We have to understand that BiK is a fictional, metaphorical film. Beyoncé is telling us to find our way back and some think watching BiK was finding their way back. BiK was to persuade us to do what she did. She wasn’t doing it for us.
I’m writing a series that is inspired by pre-colonial Africa. I’m trying to appreciate and give homage to the beauty and power in African cultures that already exist. In this attempt to create a fictional world inspired by African cultures, an inaccurate “Africa” is created. Honestly speaking, up until my research in writing the series, I didn’t have much knowledge of African cultures, and I still don’t know a ton of it either. To someone who’s never interacted with African cultures, it would be easy to accept the series as canon Africa. The same goes for Black is King. BiK should inspire people to get more connected with their African roots, but realistically it won’t and it’s not Beyoncé’s fault either. People are just going to stop at BiK and not look any further. We have to be better than that.
I love Beyonce; in my twitter bio, I call myself an apicultural scientist, but I don’t follow her blindly, nor am I afraid to critique her work validly. BiK is a beautiful production. At no point in the film does Beyonce claim BiK’s monolithic aesthetic or story to be canon, but neither is it disclaimed. She has every right to tell her story, but that doesn’t mean she’s absolved from critique. Her intentions seem to be great, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some damaging byproducts of the film. Beyonce doesn’t owe us anything. She is not responsible for how people interpret her work. We, as viewers, have to be more mindful and observant of the things we consume. Not just BiK and Beyonce but everything and everyone.
The Valid critics of BiK are trying to get people to understand that the Heteronormative and Monolithic African Royalty Aesthetic in BiK is harmful and unrealistic. To fellow beehive, I know Beyonce gets an unjust amount of hate that is usually baseless, but this time not the case. Nobody is saying you can’t enjoy BiK, but it is VERY IMPORTANT to understand that BiK is FICTION. Though it is based on and built of real elements, IT IS NOT REAL. Enjoy the beauty of the film, but DO NOT accept it as canon Africa. DO NOT ignore and overlook the beauty and power of African cultures and traditions for BiK. DO NOT make BiK your only connection to Africa in your attempt to Find Your Way Back.