A Quick Cultural Guide to Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’

Beyonce Black Is King
Disney Plus/YouTube

It is no understatement to call “Black is King” a visual feast full of specific, purposeful nods and homage paid to continental Africa and its plethora of cultures. Director, writer, producer and 24-time Grammy winner Beyoncé Knowles-Carter worked with a range of researchers, experts and directors — not to mention musicians, singers, dancers and artists — to craft a visual album centered on the richness of the African diaspora. The story arc is adapted from “The Lion King” and was shot in various locations, including the U.S., U.K., Ghana, South Africa and Belgium.

“Black is King” is also a testament to Beyoncé’s own contextualization — as a prominent Black American entertainment icon — of her heritage, says Carina Ray, associate professor of African and African American studies at Brandeis University.

“When I look at ‘Black is King,’ what I see is an auto-ethnographic record, one in which Beyoncé is placing herself at the center of her exploration of African and African diaspora culture and history,” says Ray, via email. “What’s ‘authentic’ about “Black is King” is its portrayal of how Beyoncé imagines/understands/conjures Africa and her relationship to it as an Afrodiasporic woman.”

Below is a not nearly exhaustive list of some of the culturally specific imagery featured in “Black is King.”