The Distancer: Tuesday, August 4, 2020

DAY 145: Black Is King

Happy August 4th, what a night! (Mamma Mia! fans know.)

If you have the time for a refreshing read about the state of current COVID-19 research that isn’t necessarily out to make you feel a certain way after you finish, I’d highly recommend digging into Zeynep Tufekci’s “Why Aren’t We Talking More About Airborne Transmission?” on The Atlantic. She’s clear-eyed about what we know and what remains unsettled in the science around the virus, and it’s very refreshing.

Now, a little bit of humor … those who are (or aren’t) missing the gym, you might get a kick out of this video from Late Night with Seth Meyers. It will likely not surprise you one bit that if I were to tag myself, it’s definitely the person watching a depressing Michelle Williams movie on their device. In my defense, I do wear headphones!

Lastly, I’m sure many of us saw the wild explosion videos out of Beirut today that looked like a VFX demo for some kind of studio blockbuster. But the people there are in dire need of help following the blast long after the world’s attention fades. The blast is a devastating blow to a country already reeling from both the pandemic and a cratering economy. If you feel so compelled to give, there are many options collected at the link below.

Help Beirut

Now, what you came for…

DAY 145: Black Is King (available on Disney+)

If you require this newsletter to convince you that a Beyoncé visual album is worth your time, there are much bigger problems that I cannot address. As I wrote when recommending her concert film on Netflix, Homecoming, there is simply no one else working at this level of synergistic and aesthetic brilliance in music today. She commands one of the biggest audiences of any celebrity, and while Beyoncé certainly maintains a well-manicured cult of personality, she’s among the most generous in using her brilliance to spotlight and elevate the works of other artists and cultures. I struggle with comparison because I’m not sure there has ever been another performer who has utilized their platform to introduce so much into the cultural vernacular and vogue apart from their own work.

Though Black Is King largely resembles the poetry and verse of a key Beyoncé influence, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, the visual album also assumes a more explicitly narrative form than Lemonade. The general flow of the piece maps largely yet loosely to the events of The Lion King, the inspiration — or, perhaps more aptly put, excuse — for Beyoncé to create the album “The Gift” last year. Honestly, Jon Favreau’s uncanny valley pseudo-animated remake found dead! If that had to exist for us to get Black Is King, I guess so be it, but Beyoncé absolutely wipes the floor with last year’s terrible movie.

Rather than recreate the 1994 film, Beyoncé reimagines it by explicitly tying the narrative to its roots in tribal and diasporic African culture. Though Black Is King runs under an hour and a half, the extent of ground she covers feels nothing short of an epic. While I could take my stabs at trying to point out the references that I recognized or the thematic ground I comprehended, the overwhelming experience of this visual album is a humbling one. Beyoncé first presents a sensory immersion, then a syllabus to further unpack and understand her visionary achievement. We can marvel, we can feel … and then we must learn, appreciate and appropriately value the artistic sources that made Black Is King possible.

Be good to yourselves and to each other,

See past recommendations