Beyoncé's Luxurious Digital Safari
In the feature length music video Black is King, Beyoncé takes a sensual dive into the physical and artistic beauty of black bodies. I watched, mesmerized, as the camera lingered over images of strong supple men, curvaceous women, and gleeful children. Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, a struggle ensued. I felt conflicted about this commodification of black bodies, even as I felt empowered by the grandeur of black creative expression.
On the one hand, Black Is King provided a much needed visual reminder that we are a beautiful and resilient people. With brilliant cinematography and dramatic lighting, the camera lovingly caresses the energetic forms of the actors. Had this been shot in 4k, I probably would have dropped the cash on a 4k TV, no lie.
I realized that Beyoncé's film rescued me from the represtations of black people that I had been consuming. This was not a cell phone video of a modern lynching. Instead, this was a slick, mega production, presented as a "labor of love" for black people. It does indeed present a sharp contrast to the grainy news footage of black people suffering violent and terrible deaths. For me, this amazing film managed to balance those images with something good.
Still, something inside me chafed at the irony that the film can only be viewed on Disney plus. Why not make the film available on OWN or BET or another network predominately associated with people of color? Here is where much of the criticism of the film seems valid. Part of me felt betrayed that Knowles would offer up these Afrofuturist visions as an exotic tour for the bourgeios gaze. And yet, I marvelled at the sheer star power of two black billionaire producers who could get their project made and distributed on a global platform.
However, at some point in my reflections, I started to feel like the guy who complains that "they gave us the shortest month" to celebrate Black History. I have to accept the fact that my cultural lens is dirty. It's been smudged by the pressures of trying to get by in America. It's hard for me to enjoy black success. Don't get me wrong, I want to, but I have to fight through the negative sterotypes ingrained in me by American racism since I was a little kid.
While the visuals give a nod to the stolen wealth of ancient Black kingdoms, it also reminds us that the Western redistribution of wealth is a trap. The young boy in the film is warned to "lead or be lead astray". And in his drifting, he is tempted by Jay-Z's riches. The image is typical of the blending between African and US sensibilities. A gleaming drop-top caddy pulls up, full of regal black men in bold African print outfits. And don't forget the velvet couch ensconced beneath a dramatic portrait of Beyoncé as Madonna.
All in all, I enjoyed Black is King. For black Americans, like myself, who are often separated from Africa, these images provide a much needed reminder of the beauty of Blackness. While the news media portrays us as wards of the state, Black Is King portrays us as a proud, self-determinant people. To this end, Beyoncé successfully executes her vision.
Meanwhile, political rhetoric clouds Black idealism in the US. For some reason, there's nothing sensational about the every day Black family man. Isn't this is the guy who should be clebrated? The guy who goes to work, provides for his family, and sets an example as a father and husband? We are not all "The Mob", we are not all "Gang-bangers", we are not all "Rappers", and we are not all "Ballers". We hurt and hope and love and strive to fulfill our American Dream. Black Is King reminds us that we come from a proud heritage, and we are on the brink of transforming a Nation. This time, perhaps we can create a lasting change for our children, and our children's children. Black is King certainly suggests that we can.