Movies

A Guide to the Directors of Beyoncé’s Black Is King

Beyoncé enlisted a talented mix of longtime collaborators and up-and-coming African filmmakers to help make her new movie.

Beyoncé sits atop the grill of a vintage-looking, leopard-print automobile, surrounded by Black men wearing leopard-print blazers and leopard-print pants. She wears sunglasses, braids, and leopard print.
Beyoncé in Black Is King. Travis Matthews

Beyoncé’s visual albums have proven that, in addition to her many other talents, she’s an extraordinary curator. The list of directors credited on her new movie Black Is King, which arrives on Disney Plus on Friday, represents a dazzling roster of visual artists and filmmakers, Guggenheim fellows and veteran documentarians.

In traditional Beyoncé fashion, there’s no information available in advance about which parts of Black Is King have been directed by whom, besides the fact that Knowles-Carter herself is credited as the film’s overarching director, writer, and executive producer, and if Black Is King is anything like Lemonade, we may never really know. As Indiewire critic David Ehrlich wrote when defending Beyoncé’s choice not to include detailed, song-by-song director credits for Lemonade, “As helpful as that might have been, Lemonade isn’t an anthology, it’s a chorus meant to harmonize with a single voice.” Here, for Black Is King, is a close-up on each of the voices in Beyoncé’s chorus.

Emmanuel Adjei

Adjei is a Ghanian-Dutch filmmaker, schooled in Utrecht, the Netherlands and Ghent, Belgium, whose past credits include videos for Madonna’s “Dark Ballet” and “Batuka,” both taken from her 2019 album Madame X. The latter, which takes its title and musical cues from the Cape Verdean genre batuque, was shot on the coast of Portugal and references the country’s role in the slave trade. Adjei also directed a video for the Iranian-Dutch singer Sevdaliza’s “Shahmaran,” an Afrofuturist parable which begins with Black men lugging what looks like a space-age cruise ship through the desert, and culminates when one of them breaks free, makes his way into an underground room, and finds himself tempted by images of success: a sports car, a gun, a voluptuous woman, an LP. As he explained, “It’s the story of the black man, who continues life in a cycle of oppression. The modern chains on black men today are the aspirations of decadence, power and success that create a false sense of autonomy and freedom. This leaves them victim of addictions to power and materialism, unable to venture outside what is ‘expected’ of their behavior.”

On Instagram, Adjei said that he was “overwhelmed and honored” to have the image of a body floating in space above the earth chosen for Black Is King’s official poster, a good indication he’s responsible that portion of the visual album.

Blitz Bazawule

Ghanaian filmmaker Samuel Bazawule began his career as hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambassador, releasing three albums before turning to filmmaking with The Burial of Kojo, which was included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial and, after being distributed by Ava DuVernay’s company Array, became the first movie from Ghana to be added to Netflix, where it’s still available to stream. Although it’s explicitly inspired by traditional African storytelling—Bazawule said it was the kind of movie he could imagine his grandmother making if she’d had access to a camera—there’s also a dose of the remix aesthetic and Afro-surrealism of his sometime collaborator Terence Nance, the man behind HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness.

Jenn Nkiru

A Nigerian-British filmmaker with an MFA from Howard, Nkiru most recently directed the commercial for the New York Times’ 1619 Project featuring Janelle Monáe that aired during the Academy Awards. Her 2019 short “Black to Techno,” about the birth of Detroit techno, was featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and her 2014 short “En Vogue,” a tribute to New York City’s’s ballroom scene, was shot by fellow Howard alums Bradford Young (Selma, Arrival) and Arthur Jafa (Daughters of the Dust, Crooklyn, “Cranes in the Sky”). Her dual-screen installation “Rebirth Is Necessary” features archival footage of Sun Ra and the Black Panther Party and a soundtrack featuring Pharoah Sanders and Chance the Rapper.

The second-unit director on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Apeshit,” Nikru also directed videos for Kamasi Washington’s “Hub-Tones” and Neneh Cherry’s “Kong.”

Ibra Ake

The son of Nigerian political scientist Claude Ake, Ibra Ake is the creative director for Childish Gambino and won a Grammy for producing the video for “This Is America.” He also works as a staff writer on Donald Glover’s Atlanta and shares story credit on Guava Island. Most recently, he directed the socially distanced video for Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage’s “Dangerous Love.” His 2017 short “Know the Ledge” features a young Black couple spending a day on the streets of Los Angeles, scored with songs by Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong.

Dikayl Rimmasch

Mentored by the documentary giant Les Blank, the New York-based Rimmasch first attracted the Carters’ notice through his work with Ralph Lauren, after which he ended up directing the Breathless-inspired “Bang Bang” video for their “On the Run” tour. True to his documentary background, Rimmasch said he “tried not to think of them as a power couple—just as humans, with skin and eyes. With inner complexity and compromises.”

But while Rimmasch’s work often has a grounding in vérité aesthetics, the “Sorry” and “Six Inch” segments of the Lemonade visual album (according to his website, he directed both) show it can also be lush and impressionistic, not to mention sensual. Here’s his attention-grabbing Super Bowl ad for Beyoncé’s Formation tour.

Jake Nava

The British-born Nava has been working with Beyoncé since 2003, when he directed the video for “Crazy in Love,” and their long collaboration also includes the iconic video for “Single Ladies” and three songs from the Beyoncé’s self-titled video album. We know Nava directed last year’s video for “Spirit” and “Bigger,” taken from Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift companion album, so it’s safe to say that’s at least part of his contribution here.

Pierre Debusschere

The Belgian Debusschere has worked with Beyoncé before, as the director of “Mine” and “Ghost,” and has also photographed her for magazine covers. He has a long history in fashion editorial. In 2012, he created a multimedia exhibition called “I Know Simply That the Sky Will Last Longer Than I,” whose soundtrack featured contributions from Kanye West.

Kwasi Fordjour

The Ghanaian-born Fordjour is the creative director at Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, having entered the company as an intern for her musical director and served as creative director for her historic 2018 Vogue cover shoot. He also has choreography credits on her 2013 videos “Drunk in Love,” “XO,” and “Grown Woman.” He’s never been credited as a director on one of her music videos before, but several of Black Is King’s other directors singled Fordjour out as the person who brought them on board.