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With ‘Black Is King,’ Beyoncé crowns the culture

This image released by Disney+ shows Beyoncé Knowles, center, in a scene from her visual album "Black Is King."
This image released by Disney+ shows Beyoncé Knowles, center, in a scene from her visual album "Black Is King."Travis Matthews/Associated Press

You are welcome to come home to yourself. Let Black be synonymous with glory.

With those words in “Black is King,” Beyoncé calls us to reign. Released on Disney+ early Friday morning, the film was meant to be a companion piece to “The Lion King: The Gift” soundtrack.

But it marks an extraordinary moment in Disney, in America, in the way we imagine Blackness beyond the lies we’re fed.

When you are Black and love yourself enough to fight for your life in this country, the occupant of the White House will lie and call that a symbol of hate. The government will allow police in unmarked cars to kidnap you off the streets as you protest racism, oppression, and brutality.

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You are the living word, bigger than you, bigger than me, bigger than the picture they paint us to be.

Beyoncé is calling to us with affirmation and love; she is pointing us to the ancestors and the future at the same time, all around the world, a love letter to our celestial beauty. And she’s doing it on Disney.

I wonder if Breonna Taylor ever wanted to be a Disney princess. Did she ever wrap a towel around her head the way I did and pretend to have long, flowing hair? She was just 26 when three unidentified police officers burst into her home while she was sleeping alongside her boyfriend. They killed her without reason on March 13.

And now, in the middle of Disney World, Taylor is the NBA’s princess.

An honorary member of all 22 NBA teams participating in the Florida bubble, her name is stitched on the seats of the venues. Many of the players say her name as the answer to press questions in hopes of holding her killers accountable.

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For decades, Disney made us animals. There was once even a crow named Jim Crow. Disney did not allow us to see ourselves in their royalty.

It took 74 years for us to see Brandy as “Cinderella” in the ABC live-action remake with Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother in 1997. But Disney didn’t set out to make an animated Black princess, Tiana, until 2009 –– and even then we were amphibians for much of “The Princess and the Frog.”

Now, we have “Black is King,” what Beyoncé calls a celebration of the “breadth and beauty of Black ancestry.”

It’s so much more than a visualization of the soundtrack. It is a retelling of the story, with artists from all over the world, with poetry by Warsan Shire. It is Blackness set to sound, in all its beautiful shades, in it’s expansiveness, and our humanity, centered.

“We are all in search of safety and light. Many of us want change. I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world,” she wrote on Instagram.

“I pray that everyone sees the beauty and resilience of our people. This is a story of how the people left most broken have extraordinary gifts.”

She dedicated it to her son, Sir Carter, as the film centers a young Black boy in Africa coming of age. But this film is for Black people, period. And Black Twitter shed a tear and let out a collective gasp of gratitude as new visuals to “Brown Skin Girl,” played out in “Black is King.”

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To live without reflection of yourself for so long might make you wonder if you truly exist.

It also allows the world to erase you, to decide your pain does not matter, so that when you fight for your life, they take offense. Or laugh.

In “Brown Skin Girl,” all the princesses of the debutante ball are Black girls. Throughout the sequence, we see Beyoncé holding onto Naomi Campbell and serenading Kelly Rowland. To see Lupita Nyong’o stand in her brilliance is a gift. We get Beyoncé and Blue Ivy playing something like “Miss Mary Mack,” the clapping game of our childhood. We are seen.

Does Megan Thee Stallion, alive but shot twice earlier this month only to have the Internet turn it into a joke, see herself here? Would Breonna Taylor have seen herself here? Because I see them here. I see myself here. We deserve to be here.

You’re swimming back to yourself. You’ll meet yourself at the shore. The coast belongs to our ancestors.

And we honor each other, we do so in life and in death.

Much like Beyoncé took up all this space and grew it to shine light on Black folk across the diaspora and pay homage to our history, Oprah Winfrey is keeping Breonna Taylor’s name alive.

For the first time since O magazine launched 20 years ago, founder Winfrey is not the cover girl. The September issue stars a digital rendering of Breonna Taylor.

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“What I know for sure: We can’t be silent,” Winfrey wrote of the decision. “We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice. And that is why Breonna Taylor is on the cover of O magazine. I cry for justice in her name.”

John Lewis cried justice for us all and fought for our future. Before he died, he made sure to visit Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza and witness the truth marching on. He left us a letter.

He reminded us, “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor.”

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe,” he wrote. “It is your turn to let freedom ring.”

This has been a freedom summer. And our fight won’t end with the summer.

Salutations to survivors of the world, the elders are tired. To God we belong, to God we return. You find yourself in a room with all the people you lost and you dance with joy.

I hope Breonna Taylor is with her elders and knows we are fighting for her and lifting her. We love her. And we are doing everything we can to stop letting this world make ancestors out of our young.

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As Beyoncé sings to us in “Spirit,” our destiny is coming close. Stand up and fight.

As we war, we must love, and as Lewis said, walk with the wind. We must love on one another and fix each other’s crowns.

“Black Is King” is not an assertion to rule over others. It’s a declaration of love of our Blackness, our song, our journey, and the imagination of our future. This pride, this dance, this space-taking, is part of our rise.

This, too, is freedom.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee