By Brian Smith
On Friday, Beyoncé released Black Is King, a film she directed, which she calls a “love letter to Africa.” It also happens to be a love letter to flowers.
Inspired by her appearance as Nala in Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King, the film, which was released on Disney +, sees the megastar singer create 14 songs about a hero’s journey.
Bey has often used flowers in her work to tell stories. And once again, she did not disappoint. Here is how she used flowers to illustrate some of the messages of the film.
In the video for the song “Nile” Beyoncé lies in a boat that is completely filled with multicolored arrangements. Most appear to be blue salvias, and perhaps a few spiked speedwells, beautifully paired with popping purple and pink morning glory petals.
This sequence of images is a visual representation of the transition from life to death. Beyoncé reimagines the death of Mufasa through this arrangement. She converts tragedy into a meaningful lesson on the passage between life and death and, most notably, makes flowers the vehicle that delivers us from one life to another.
This perception of death can be found across African diasporic cultures. However, it is the Yoruba culture and spirituality of Nigeria that most heavily influences this visual album and Beyoncé. Beyoncé has included references to Yoruba traditions, most notably, since the release of her 2016 visual album Lemonade. She invokes Yoruban Orishas, deities who serve as a spiritual connection between humankind and God, through symbolic imagery. Because the Orishas can be typically associated with colors, natural elements, and life occurrences such as birth and death, references to them can be made quite efficiently. Beyoncé often presents images of Ọṣun, the deity of beauty, love, fertility, and divinity of rivers.
Beyoncé also understands that flowers hold myriad meanings. While flowers are used to celebrate life and death in “Nile,” she invokes their presence again for the “Water” video. In the music video for “Water,” she and her female dancers dance in a stream with woven baskets full of flowers on their heads as she sings a rhythmic tune about two lovers spending a romantic evening together near a river.
Of course, you can leave it to the ever-classy Queen Bey to sing about intimacy and romance on a family-friendly platform like Disney. By dressing in bright fuchsia gowns, with her dancers balancing woven baskets brimming with pale pink pampas grass and hydrangeas on their heads while dancing in a stream, she very subtly references fertility. The lyrics underline this theme. “I’ll bring back the moon just so we got all night. I’ll bring the sun down too so I can show you the light.” Very clever Bey, but don’t worry. We won’t tell Disney.
The most heartwarming use of flowers in Black Is King comes with what is perhaps the most emotional part of the film. “Brown Skin Girl” is an anthem that celebrates the beauty in women of color. The high point is Beyoncé’s eldest daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, softly singing the chorus: “Brown skin girl, your skin just like pearls, the best thing in the world. I’ll never trade you for anybody else.”
This soothing and empowering ballad features Black and Southeast Asian women in elegant ball gowns holding flower bouquets and sitting next to extravagant arrangements. Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé’s longtime friend and former member of Destiny’s Child, is shown standing next to a massive arrangement of yellow, pink, red, and white roses cascading down from atop a piano.
She is wearing an all-white gown with puffed sleeves. She sways side to side, swinging her nearly floor-length braids next to the giant rose piece that takes up nearly half the frame.
In this video, Beyoncé uses flowers to underscore her message: that beauty for women, just like roses, comes in a vast array of colors. Roses hold an abundance of meaning across cultures but one thing remains consistent, roses are the flowers of love. “Brown Skin Girl,” musically and visually, is a stunning declaration of love.
Beyoncé, employing some of the greatest florists in the world including Oscar Mora, Putnam & Putnam -who did the movie -Phil John Perry and Sarah Lineberger, has often used flowers for effective messaging.
In the 2018 September issue of Vogue, with the iconic cover shot by Tyler Mitchell featuring Beyoncé adorned with a magnificent floral headpiece designed by Phil John Perry, Beyonce spoke of her art, legacy, and what drives her.
“I like to be free,” she said in the interview. “I’m not alive unless I am creating something. I’m not happy if I’m not creating, if I’m not dreaming, if I’m not creating a dream and making it into something real. I’m not happy if I’m not improving, evolving, moving forward, inspiring, teaching, and learning.”
She also evoked the eternal mother in another image surrounded by flowers to introduce her pregnancy to the world hiring photographer Awol Erizku who Vox called “the art world equivalent of a rock star’ and florist Sarah Lineberger. In these images, she accessed the great art of “Madonna and Child” as well as Frida Kahlo.
Mason Poole then photographed this iconic shot with a canopy of flowers introducing her twins.
But this movie is yet another level of Beyonce evolving as an artist and inspiration.
Why is this so special?
Black Is King is inspiring, it is alive and free. This reimagining of The Lion King at this moment in time allows Black people across the globe to project ourselves into a cinematic world that celebrates the beauty and depth of our lives. Beyoncé is a masterful artist who weaves the threads of dance, music, film, spirituality, and yes, flowers together to bring some much-needed light to a dim world.
Brian Smith is an entertainment writer and video producer who graduated in African Studies and film from Oberlin College and has been accepted into USC’s film school.