So I was watching Black is King and it got me thinking about power and provocation…
New Testament scholars and historians in recent decades have drawn our attention to the phrase “Caesar is Lord,” and its historical significance. It served as an imperial chant, and a slogan etched on currency in the Roman empire. When early Christians began saying, “Jesus is Lord,” it wasn’t just a declaration but a challenge: if Jesus was lord, then Caesar wasn’t. This was the type of statement that could get you killed.
White Supremacy, especially when it is veiled as White Normativity, forms an implicit chant and slogan that whiteness is the standard of excellence. It is “Stamped From the Beginning,” as Ibram X Kendi titled his book on the history of racist ideas in America. “White is King” may not be etched on our currency, but Andrew Jackson’s face still haunts the $20 bill. Americans are engrained with the idea that whiteness is normal and everything else is abnormal, and therefore lesser, whether we acknowledge it or not. It is a cultural default-setting.
“Black is King,” like the statement “Jesus is Lord,” is a provocation; a challenge to the way that power is currently arranged and imagined in the world. They both implicitly challenge the status quo not through direct antagonism but by calling forth a future that seems at once forever away, and also subtly (and not so subtly) within us right now.
All of this said, it would be an insult to Black is King to view it as a contrast to whiteness. It is first and foremost a celebration of black beauty, excellence, self-identity, and resilience. This is the future it calls forth – a time where the identity of blackness isn’t viewed at all in comparison to whiteness but is itself “synonymous with glory.” The film beckons us to not only see this is as a possible future, but also manifest in the past and present.
Black is King is a celebration of blackness and a meditation on life, with swaths of biblical imagery, multiple African spiritualities, and Afrofuturism. It is an “imagination [that] can offer a pathway for recovery… and craft realities that are more just and colorful than the ones in your standard fictional utopias” (C. Brandon Ogbunu on Afrofuturism.)
Like the Kingdom of God, “Black is King” points to a future that has past and present ramifications. In Luke 21, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within/among you.” On the track “Keys to the Kingdom”, Beyonce sings that “you are the remedy/Don’t know what’s inside/But you’re the key to the kingdom.” The future is “Already” even when it is not yet. Black is King is a visual masterpiece and a thoughtful thematic exploration on the interwoven nature of the past, present, and future.
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