JOHANNESBURG - “Black is King” stunned Beyonce fans when it dropped suddenly last month.
The visual album, which was filmed last year in the U.S., South Africa, West Africa and Europe, is based on music from her album “The Lion King: The Gift” and features an array of African artists, musicians and dancers.
Like all Beyonce products, this album has its detractors. Some accuse the Houston native of cultural appropriation for using African aesthetics.
But in South Africa, where she filmed many of the scenes, those involved in the production were rapturous. Sibusiso Mathebula worked on some Johannesburg-based scenes as part of his film studies. He spoke to VOA via Google Hangouts from his hometown, Middelburg.
“I’m really really honored to have become part of the crew that put together this film. I really love the film," he said. " It went into a lot of things that we haven't been told in our in our schools about Black history. When I saw the film, that's when I started to see that the stories and the attires and the outfits that she was putting and that whole scene, really represented something deeper than what people were expecting.”
Reaction is coming slowly from the continent because the film’s distributor, Disney Plus, is not widely available here. But South Africa’s largest cable distributor aired the film days after it debuted in late July, and is making it available on demand for premium subscribers.
Beyonce fan Kgosi Motsoane, who founded a project to tell queer narratives in Africa, says he believes the African diaspora - which includes Black Americans - has every right to reference and use what some may see as “African” culture. He told VOA via Google Hangouts he loved the film, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a few critiques.
"Like, there are areas where I thought that “Black is King’ could have been improved. For example, as a queer person I would have loved to see more -- I know she worked with a lot of queer people -- but I would have liked to see that representation on camera," he said. "But ultimately, like, there was no representation of transwomen there. There was no representation of, you know, of like, butch lesbians, of non- … it's just like, a lot of those types of expressions in like the women experience, were quite sort of ... silenced in a way."
And, Motsoane says, it’s important, especially now, to elevate the power and position of Black women -- especially after as U.S. Democratic Senator Kamala Harris became the first Black woman vice-presidential pick.
“You have a pop star who has the biggest platform in the world and is using it to sort of push Black politics. And then you have this vice president candidate that is a Black woman, taking space," he said. "It's really interesting to see these things happen now, considering how when we understand the politics, Black women have always been on the lowest sort of like strata of social hierarchy. And to have them occupy these really key, critical, profoundly influential platforms, that is really heartening and it's encouraging. But also, I cannot think of a better time that we need something like this to happen.”
Mathebula agrees, and says Beyonce’s film inspired him to work on his own project that will help tell more African stories.
On one thing, her African supporters agree: If Black is King, Beyonce is the Queen. So whether you’re in Accra or Atlanta, they say: bow down.