From the moment James Earl Jones’s unmistakable baritone is heard, images of the African continent floating across the screen as he delivers a monologue about nature’s delicate balance, Beyoncé fans knew they were in for something special.
This morning, the superstar’s visual album Black Is King arrived on Disney+, prompting many to wait until the wee hours and renew interest in the platform that brought us Baby Yoda. Released in a moment when everyone—Beyhive member or not—is craving escapist entertainment, the film delivered sumptuous scenery and a history lesson delivered through fashion and beauty. An extension of her work on The Lion King, the series of interconnected music videos features voiceovers from costars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Seth Rogan, plus hits culled from her soundtrack album The Gift.
In the year since its release, the songs have become familiar, but these corresponding visuals add another element. Just as the surprise release of her eponymous album signified a new phase in Beyoncé’s artistry in 2013, Black Is King shows her at her most commanding. Though numerous collaborators were involved—filmmakers Emmanuel Adjei, Blitz Bazawule, Pierre Debusschere, Ibra Ake, Dikayl Rimmasch, Jake Nava, and Parkwood creative director Kwasi Fordjour all contributed segments—Beyoncé served as the project’s director, and it is her vision that ties things together.
Much of Black Is King’s creative punch can be credited to the superstar’s longtime stylist, Zerina Akers. There isn’t a frame of the film that doesn’t feature a fashion statement or editorial-worthy tableau. Clothing tells the story as effectively as the production design and camerawork, adding a luxurious texture. Fashion would have been a strong presence within the film even if everyone were in jeans (style icon Lupita Nyong’o pops up during “Brown Skin Girl” as do modeling stars Naomi Campbell, Adut Akech, and Aweng Ade-Chuol, who add a bit of runway magic), but the chosen pieces feel essential.
Olivier Rousteing’s jewel-toned blue Balmain gown worn with layers of gold bangles during the opening segment underscores the majestic aura of Beyoncé’s character. At the same time, the custom cow-print Burberry corset designed by Riccardo Tisci adds a dose of wild sex appeal as she dances to “Already,” with her hair sculpted into braided horns. The sight of Beyoncé holding a garden’s worth of flowers in “Water” wouldn’t have been as impactful without Molly Goddard’s explosion of pink tulle ruffles.
Several of the buzziest names in fashion are prominently featured. The pink-tinted tea party with Kelly Rowland, Tina Knowles, and Blue Ivy is elevated by the addition of Erdem Moralioglu’s punchy abstract floral print. While the modern dance movements that accompany “Already” would have lost its dramatic edge without skin-tight bodysuits covered in Marine Serre’s crescents, the rainbow-hued beauty of Casey Cadwallader’s spring 2020 Mugler knits make for a major pop when Beyoncé struts her way through the dance break of “My Power,” joined by Blue Ivy in matching separates.
Accessories play a crucial role too, with Laurel Dewitt’s blingy creations sparkling throughout. DeWitt’s crystal-covered turbans and towering pearl crowns are fashion prizes all on their own, and they work seamlessly with the film’s overarching look. When you pause to connect the mise-en-scéne with the costumes, the choices feel thoughtful; who better for a backyard fête than the Windsor-family-approved Moralioglu? Serre’s print may be ubiquitous—in recent weeks, it has popped up on Blackpink, Rosalía, Dua Lipa, and Selena Gomez—but its allusions to the celestial are universally understood.
Established names weren’t the only ones to receive a shoutout. Mixed in amongst the Balmain and Burberry are a variety of global labels with outré flair. Several of the sculptural white gowns Beyoncé dons throughout come directly from Tel Aviv–based designer Alon Livné, a new addition to her wardrobe. Designers from the diaspora play a special part in the proceedings as well, a move that aligns with Akers’s Black-owned initiative and Beyoncé’s tastes.
Her striking shoulder-padded blazer is a custom piece from Ivorian Loza Maléombho, whose spring 2016 Zaouli collection popped up on backup dancers in the “Formation” video. Ivy Park contributor Jerome Lamaar revived his 5:31 Jérôme label especially for the occasion, creating a beautifully embellished aquamarine trench and headdress for the star’s performance with Shatta Wale.
The film’s beauty statements are as impressive. A direct reference to the traditions of multiple cultures, the braids created by Neal Farinah represent a multitude of options for Black hair. With Beyoncé plus hundreds of dancers and actors all needing a distinctive look, the hairstyles span the continent and diaspora. There are Fulani braids from Sahel’s Fula people, the Bantu knots of the sub-Sahara’s Indigenous ethnic groups, the gravity-defying flat tops of Congo’s Mangbetu clans.
A glamorous statement, the floor-grazing twists are so long they require a platform, while Beyoncé’s signature blonde curls add Texan swagger. The constant changes keep viewers on their toes, especially when paired with makeup artist Sir John’s daring body art. Head to toe green-and-black stripes fade into a matching bikini top during “Find Your Way Back,” while the aforementioned crystal turban necessitate Swarovski-embellished brows.
These elements combined make for a stunning film and the fulfillment of Beyoncé’s mission statement. In a surprisingly candid Instagram update on Sunday, she outlined the thought process behind the narrative and the importance of Black artists reclaiming their stories. “Black Is King is a labor of love. It is my passion project that I have been filming, researching, and editing day and night for the past year.
I’ve given it my all, and now it’s yours,” she wrote. “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.” ThoughBlack Is King doesn’t cite the social unrest of 2020 directly (everything was filmed during the pre-COVID calm of 2019), recent events have made the displays of Black beauty and joy like this more urgent than ever.
For Beyoncé, the project is a way of doing just that, honoring her culture while letting her fans appreciate theirs even more. “I only hope that from watching, you leave feeling inspired to continue building a legacy that impacts the world in an immeasurable way,” she wrote. “I pray that everyone sees the beauty and resilience of our people. This is a story of how the people left most broken have extraordinary gifts.” See the images below!
Photocredit: Courtesy Parkwood Entertainment / Disney Plus