While Beyonce’s Black is King is getting a lot of attention for all the cameos, stunning visuals, and music the whole film is laced with deeper meanings and cultural moments. Every scene and shot makes a point, whether that’s about African culture, finding our roots or family.
Africa past and present is represented throughout Beyonce’s visual album on Disney+ – some references are more subtle than others, but all force you to pay attention.
Beyonce’s Black is King, an 85-minutes-long film, brings together directors, cinematographers, stylists and creative directors, highlighting Black talent across the world.
The idea was to reimagine The Lion King, but Beyonce stretches beyond that using Biblical imagery – Madonna and Moses – as well as African cultural references and spirituality, fashion, placing modern v African past to create a stunning film.
Black is King was also edited just months before release to reflect the current climate post-George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The film has a lot to say; what it means to be African, what it means to be Black as well as remembering our roots and thinking about who controls that narrative. It’s about legacy, culture, and tradition all coming together in the Black diaspora.
Beyonce starts strong singing: “Black is the colour of my true love’s skin. Coils and hair catching centuries of prayers spread through a smoke. You are welcome to come home to yourself. Let Black be synonymous with glory.”
Her quote captures the love and praise Beyonce shows for Black and African culture throughout the film, but there’s more to be said – through the hidden meanings and symbols. We’ve broken some of these down.
Who is the Blue/Green Man?
Blue/Green men crop up in different parts of the film, but one man pops up repeatedly. We’ll call him the Blue Man from now on.
The Blue Man appears in ALREADY feature Ghanian Shatta Wale and Major Lazer.
We hear Rafiki, a spirit guide in The Lion King, encouraging Simba to look inside himself and discover who he really is. The Blue Man is Stephen Ojo, the main dancer. He uses his burst of energy to create movement.
A few people have theorised he’s a Spirit Guide, similar to Rafiki in The Lion King. He appears just like Beyonce throughout the film. In Afam culture this blue protects against evil spirits and can represent a spirit itself.
The colour is most similar to Haint, which has several layers of meaning. Colours have a lot of meaning in African culture – though this varies by country. For example, black means power, but it means death too. Purple means royalty, luxury, wisdom and passion, yellow can mean joy, energy, warmth. Pink can mean femininity. Blue represents love, harmony, togetherness, and peace.
Haint blue itself has deeper meaning even beyond the spiritual – there have been breakdowns of what blue means to the enslaved Africans and how they reclaimed it.
At first it was used by the enslaved Africans as a trick to mimic the sky to trick ghosts into passing, but when they were brought to the USA the colour or rather the dye gained another meaning.
The paint was used for the slave quarters’ ceilings in the USA. The colour was called Haint blue an African-American vernacular referring to a host or in Hoodoo a witch-like creature haunting them. But the slave owners used the enslaved people to make the dye which they used on their own houses, increasing the trade, taking something that was part of the culture.
Perhaps stepping back a little (while also skipping ahead to look at all the symbols of Beyonce as a mother) Beyonce is the Mother guiding the young boy who will be King, while the blue man represents the spirit, with him always, guiding him. It would make sense giving the source material ie The Lion King and the link to African culture.
The blue man guides the boy through life – we see him age, marry and join God (“Salutations to survivors of the world The elders are tired To God we belong To God we return” as he is lifted up to the light). He represents the diaspora trying to reconnect to their roots in a similar way – and guiding them in the same way.
Fun fact: Stephen Ojo taught Beyonce the Zanku dance.
Caleb and I taught @beyonce how to Gbese. We taught @rihanna how to Gwarra Gwarra. We taught @JanetJackson how to Kupe. Who should we teach next ????. Tag your favorite Celebrities. #blueman #papiojo #BlackIsKing #afrobeats pic.twitter.com/96H8KAxdXQ
— PAPI_OJO (@PAPI_OJO) August 2, 2020
The very symbol that is on Beyonce’s album cover for The Gift is a gold emblem of two lions in a circle. This symbol appears in the film repeatedly. It is similar too to the Ying-Yang symbol, suggesting duality and balance. Beyonce says: “The journey is something to offer at the door to the rooms of your mind. This is how we journey far and can always find something like home.”
The young boy, the King, is seen going on his life journey right through to the afterlife. The Gift then is the knowledge and wisdom he gains on the journey in the film – guided by the blue man and Beyonce the Mother.
Circle of Life
The circle appears in the film consistently. The Blue Man is one example as he connects with a woman who has the paint and hair similar to the Himba women in Namibia and Angola. Of course, this links to the Circle of Life as referenced in The Lion King, but it also references unity.
Beyonce says: “History is your future. One day you will meet yourself back where you started, but stronger.” This perhaps references the cyclical nature of life. The Yoruba believe that a person contains the souls from their previous lives along with their lessons. This is an idea seen in The Lion King too.
The film begins with Beyonce on the shore wearing white – the boy is being baptised, cleansed in the water. Baptism is seen in various cultures, though Christianity and Judaism’s ceremony is similar to what we see here. The boy is painting with white markings as part of a naming ceremony.
Dogon people and stars
The Dogon people are shown as well as astronomical references like the boy floating above Earth until an orb of light hits him. “The great kings were here long before us. Ancient masters of celestial lore,” Beyonce says.
The Dogon are known for their knowledge of the celestial. They are believed to be the tribe who first charted the location of the star Sirius B, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. This was centuries before telescopes were discovered in 1862. Beyonce wears her shining outfit looking like a star in the sky.
Interestingly, Beyonce has three other women in her glittering bodysuits. If this is linked to the Dogon that appear then perhaps they reflect the Ancient Egyptians who built the Great Pyramids – they were aligned with the stars in Orion’s belt. The idea was to look at the stars (just as Beyonce sings in FIND YOUR WAY BACK) – if we do this then we stand in the same spot, seeing the same thing as our ancestors. Perhaps Beyonce is suggesting looking to where we come from as well as our larger place in the world, if not the galaxy.
We see an American flag but painted black, red and green. These are colours from the Pan-African flag. The voiceover references the identity struggle American descendants from the enslaved Black people from Africa experience. He says he doesn’t know his native tongue, adding: “And if I can’t speak myself, I can’t think myself. And if I can’t think myself, I can’t be myself. But if I can’t be myself, I will never know me. So, Uncle Sam, tell me this: If I will never know me, how can you?”
The theme of knowing yourself isn’t just key in The Lion King, but throughout Black is King – Beyonce calls Black people to explore their roots, to know where they come from, bringing together their past to their present.
In her trailer for Black is King Beyonce cements this.
“We are all in search of safety and light,” she says. “Many of us want change. 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.”
The flower on the floor in the set of MY POWER was inspired by the Ghanaian adinkra symbol Bese Saka, representing affluence, power, abundance, togetherness and unity. The women singing and in the segment come from different places and countries but are united in the song – together in their power.
You can check it out in the below gif – just look at the floor.
— ✜ AgustDynasty⁷ ✜ is studying (@iamjminbitch) July 31, 2020
As Shatta Wale rides a horse (aka his throne) there’s a hidden umbrella in shot. This was a nod to Akan culture.
Early on we see a small Moses basket. Moses was put in a basket on a river in Egypt to save him when the Pharaoh decreed that the firstborn sons of the Jewish people were to be killed. Moses is found by the Pharaoh’s daughter according to the Bible and raised as her son. Beyonce is seen delivering the basket as well as picking it up (dressed in white) later in a lush garden. Moses story is a thread through Black is King that can’t be ignored. Is Beyonce making a point again about remembering where you came from? Moses’ story is a perfect example of this. Raised away from his Jewish people in luxury he takes on the Egyptian riches and is shaken we he is told about his roots. He finally embraces them and frees his people (the famous plagues and parting of the Red Sea).
Beyonce, later dressed in white, picks up the baby from the basket, drawing comparisons to Moses and the different life he was brought up in – is this calling Black people to look back to their roots? To remember who they are? Like God asks Moses to? That isn’t to say any of this is shown as a judgement, Beyonce showcases the beauty of the African past, traditions, and roots – suggesting perhaps they should be applauded, and are something to be proud of, to not forget. As Mufasa tells Simba: “Remember who you are.”
Madonna aka Mary
Beyonce is seen painted as the Madonna, Mary in Christianity, quite a few times in the film setting up Beyonce as the Mother, whether that’s Mother Africa or Mothering spirit joined by the spirit guide, the man in blue.
She is motherly to the young boy (Simba) as well as her own children. As well as the film being a reimagining of The Lion King it’s quite apparent that it also uses religious imagery to tell another story. Beyonce’s children appear throughout and the Madonna is the Mother of Christ. There’s also the ‘Black Madonna’ imagery, Beyonce wears black throughout starkly contrasted to white – there’s the obvious imagery reasoning here, but the monochromatic style harks back to the 70s and 80s, her outfits a la Grace Jones.
Beyonce also wears a hooded blue outfit as she embraces Blue Ivy – Mary is known for wearing blue – another nod to motherhood.
Beyonce wears quite a few crowns in the film. She has the bantu knit, her green gele, the zebu horn headpiece with braids.
The above headpiece and cow print echo the Egyptian goddess Hathor, the primeval goddess meaning she’s the goddess that others derived from. She is the goddess of women, fertility and the mother.
Symbols of Currency
Throughout ALREADY and the rest of the film you’ll spot certain symbols; cattle, goats, cowry shells, gold, rings, grills, durags, and chains. All are traditional and contemporary symbols of currency and status, even outside of the African diaspora. One of the ideas that comes from this was royalty – and how that beauty isn’t just royal as a King or Queen, but the beauty in the everyday.
Moonchild Sanelly also wore cattle horns, covered in bling, but these are also symbolic within South African culture. They can be a symbol of danger or a symbol of leadership.
Fun fact: Beyonce was supposed to wear these, but they wouldn’t stay on her hairstyle so Moonchild donned them.
Beyonce has her children appear repeatedly, and the film is dedicated to her son Sir, but the whole clan appears. In MOOD 4 EVA when Beyonce dances in a mansion she’s joined by husband Jay-Z as he pulls up in a car, a white butler serves them flipping the situation.
As well as her own family, Rumi, Blue Ivy, Sir, Jay Z, and her mother, and grandmother Tina Knowles-Lawson, as well as Kelly Rowland, Beyonce opens the doors to her wider Black family and community – she uses black designers, artists and actors and dancers.
For BROWN SKIN GIRLS Beyonce switches to a debutante ball with her daughter Blue Ivy appearing again – and singing. Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Rowland all feature. It also features other ‘brown skinned girls’ showcasing BAME outside of the black community.
— Blk Girl Culture (@blkgirlculture) July 31, 2020
In MY POWER we see different stages of life, from the oldest competitive female bodybuilder at 84 years old, Ernestine Shepherd, to a pregnant women dancing and Blue Ivy, Beyonce’s daughter.
Yellow and Oshun
Beyonce wears yellow throughout the film (like she did in Lemonade) alluding to Yorubariver goddess Oshun, representing love, fertility and sensuality. It also harks back to the rejuvenating power of water. Oshun is remembered in the lyrics to MOOD 4 EVA too.
Beyonce uses a variety of hair styles in Black is King showcasing the cultural variations and styles. At one point she wears a 30ft box braids as she stands on a ladder, another scene sees her with a braid crown. In another scene, she shows the Himba women braiding their hair smoothing red clay over it in the traditional way. It holds up their beauty with pride.
As well as water meaning rebirth there’s an environmental message here. In WATER rapper-producer Pharrell walks and sings on top of a wall of recycled water containers creating a striking visual – a blue wall in the desert. The wall is a reference to Ghanian installation artist Serge Attukwei and environmentalism.