Beyonce’s Black is King and Erroneous Representations of Africa.
The exploitation of Africa by African-American artistes is always painful to take. There is of course blaxploitation; the exploitation of black experience heritage and history. Talk about movies and series like Django, 12 years a slave, Dolemite, Blackish, and so on. However, one can argue that movies like Django, Harriet, 12 years a Slave, and others like them are dramatizations of slave and freedom narratives. I think one can say they were produced as a mode of transmission of these slave and freedom narratives (experiences) from oral to texts and now to visual representation and artistic reproduction. This is understandable. Very understandable. So maybe they are not just about profit and exploiting black experiences.
White saviors and messianic complex towards Africa is another form of exploiting African experiences by whites. so, when they come to Africa, they go to the poorest of the poor, take pictures with them then circulate the pictures as the true representation of Africa. There is no denying that Africa’s development has poverty as one of the clogs in its wheel. The idea is that even this shouldn’t be exploited to make a person look like a helper or a savior of Africa just to make profits and to fulfill their messianic complex. Yes, there are genuine human concerns when acts such as these are done but we can’t jettison the opinion that most white people come to Africa with aid just to present themselves as saviors. It becomes sadder when it is someone of Africana heritage that exploits African experiences and cultures. It is even more concerning to see that black Americans are not well equipped with the epistemologies of what Africa is genuinely like.
Over the past years, we have seen that Black Americans can be bigoted as white supremacists. Their understanding and perception of Africa and Africans in Africa are parochial. In recent years, we’ve seen on social media pages how some of them express their bewilderment at Africans having common things like electricity, phones, social amenities, and other infrastructures. They must have expected Africans to be living in the Hegelian description of Africa as “the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of the night” and as a place in which the “natural man is in his completely wild and untamed state”. It says a lot about you if you are compared to Hegel when it comes to your view of Africans.
Despite all of these, African American artists have used their black heritage as a means of “cashing out”. Well, in a very capitalistic world, there seems to be nothing much wrong with that. I don’t think I have a ‘big problem' with that. What I do have a problem with is the misrepresentation of Africa and Africans in the videos and music of African-American artists. If one is to list, you’d see that the list is endless. Let’s talk about a few. Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America takes the cake on this one. The 1988 hit comedy movie had several reprehensible depictions of Africa. There’s no much change since then. Production companies and those they’ve placed in charge of their casting in many cases cast wrong actors for the roles of Africans from certain countries. To many of them, All Africans have this nasal manner of pronunciation, prolongation of words, and certain intensity in our windpipe while speaking. No matter the country they try to portray in a movie, the African speech register, and intonation they give to all African characters is Southern Africa. This is an erroneous notion planted on the conclusion that Africans are culturally and
historically homogenous. Another wrong perception that is now a common stereotype. This is well presented in Will Smith’s Concussion, in which he portrayed a Nigerian-born neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, where Omalu an eastern Nigerian spoke in an accent that is purely South of Africa. We have had many critical reviews of these movies, stating the inaccuracies in the representations of Africa but it seems the shot callers are bent on presenting Africa to us the way they want to and not the way it is. The most ironic of them that I have seen is Joseph Benjamin, A Nigerian actor who played the role of a Nigerian accountant in the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Christian series, Greenleaf. Joseph Benjamin himself is a Nigerian and one would think he would speak the Nigerian accent but he didn’t. He spoke in a pseudo-Nigerian accent that is despicable. At least, when David Oyelowo played the role of Harrold Soyinka in Gringo, he delivered on the Yoruba accent. Another hideous stereotype is the representation of attire. In certain cases, they get it right and in certain cases, they do not and in certain cases, it is overemphasized. Look at CBS Bob Hearts Abishola as an example, there were places where they had no need for African attires. They always have Uncle Tunde, Aunty Olu, Abishola, Chukuemeka and Kemi wearing African attires even when not necessary.
Recently, Beyoncé Knowles dropped her musical and visual album titled Black is King. With a director like Jenn Nkiru one aspect the African cultural representations in the visual album will be apt. Black diaspora studies show that there are in many instances the over romanticization of Africa by black Americans with little no knowledge of Africa. This over romanticization is visible in Black Panther. Beyonce’s Black is King is another Wakandafication of Africa, in the sense that it is purely an overdo of misrepresentations of Africa. Both Black Panther and Black is King are guilty of homogenizing thousands of African cultures into one, which indirectly denies the existence of several cultures. If Beyoncé’s project is to elevate the uniqueness of Africanity, it is doing a bad job in achieving its aim. The Voltron of Beyoncé should not see this as an attack but rather as a clear indication of the inaccuracies of the black diaspora in their aim to paint what Africa is like. The usage of Zebu horns, the personalization of the Yoruba deity Oshun are intended representation of our cultural past and metaphorisation of the Atlantic journey. This to some may appear as celebrating the historio-cultural identity of Africans but these narratives are old and they are just being exploited. Africanity and being black are now being exploited at the alter of capitalistic motives, yet presented as though it is just the age of renaissance for Africa. If Africa is to be exploited for capitalistic gains, it is okay as long as those who want to can defend it but it is detrimental in the process of this to now present Africa in inaccurate ways. If black is king, we don’t Beyoncé to tell us this but we need her to present Africa with a degree of accuracy because many Africans in diaspora may not be able to sit and read texts from Frederick Douglas, Olaudah Equiano, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison but they have all the time to watch Beyonce and believe her as an artist with integrity who won’t give them false representations of African cultures. Whatever we think, Beyonce owes it to Africans in Africa to show what it is like to be genuinely African and she owes it to black diaspora with little knowledge of Africa to paint more accurate pictures of Africa rather than creating a fictional idea of Africa. Again, Beyoncé is an extraordinary musician but it does not rule out the fact that she has no great grasp of Africa. Not just that, like many other African-Americans, Beyoncé ’s understanding of Africa is very shallow, exploitative, and unreliable. Black is King is then not about preaching black but about making money with false narratives and representations.