How Beyoncé Turned Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ Into a Celebration of African Culture

No other artist uses culture, history, and their influence like Beyoncé. In addition to being a lead role in Disney’s photo-real adaptation of The Lion King, Miss Carter produced and curated The Lion King: The Gift. This album features African artists and songs inspired by the Disney film. Beyoncé released the music videos for songs like “Spirit” and “Bigger.” She even met Meghan Markle at The Lion King’s European premiere. Learn more about the musician’s cultural influences here.

Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Jay-Z | Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney

Beyoncé portrays Nala in Disney’s photo-real adaptation of ‘The Lion King’

Disney’s 2019 film, The Lion King, features prominent actors, including Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, and James Earl Jones. Beyoncé portrays adult Nala and is featured on the film’s original motion picture soundtrack. She sang songs originally featured in the 1994 film, like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

But Beyoncé didn’t stop there. The artist produced, curated, and sang on a second album, in conjunction with Disney’s The Lion King. The Lion King: The Gift features African musicians and producers. Additionally, it highlights aspects of African culture in a way that’s never been done before.

Beyoncé | (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella

Beyoncé produced and curated the album ‘The Lion King: The Gift’

Through The Lion King: The Gift, Beyoncé took Disney’s story and brought it into the real world. In addition to musicians from Africa, she features famous American artists like Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay-Z. The artist used her influence and the comfort of The Lion King to introduce songs that reflect African music. Most notably, she presents this style of music to listeners who might not have heard it otherwise. 

“Beyoncé has truly accomplished something singularly unheard of before with her newest release. It cannot be clearly defined as an original soundtrack, yet it emulates musical storytelling from every track, setting itself apart from similar endeavors that are merely inspired by a film. It acts as the perfect reminder for what the new film, soundtrack and accompanying projects can be about: the celebration of cultures and skin colors long overlooked,” said one critic from Daily Bruin.

“I wanted to put everyone on their own journey to link the storyline,” Beyoncé said in a press release. “Each song was written to reflect the film’s storytelling that gives the listener a chance to imagine their own imagery while listening to a new contemporary interpretation. It was important that the music was not only performed by the most interesting and talented artists but also produced by the best African producers. Authenticity and heart were important to me.”

Beyoncé highlighted the beauty of color with the music videos for ‘Spirit’ and ‘Bigger’

Before releasing The Lion King: The Gift, Beyoncé released the vibrant and colorful music video for her song, “Spirit.” Within a few hours, the song was trending on YouTube, some fans even saying it empowered them. Empowering women, of course, is always one of Beyoncé’s goals.

“The concept of the video is to show how God is the painter and natural beauty in nature needs no art direction. It’s the beauty of color, the beauty of melanin, the beauty of tradition,” Beyoncé said in an interview with Good Morning America. “It was important that we weren’t just inspired by Africa but that we actually included and learned from the motherland.”

Plus, the artist filmed at an Arizona waterfall off of the Grand Canyon, located on the Havasupai (hav-uh-SU’-peye) Tribe’s reservation. According to the Washington Post, the group was “honored” to grant the singer’s request to film her latest music video there, some members even taking a picture with Beyoncé.

Disney’s photo-real adaptation of The Lion King is now available in theaters. The Lion King: The Gift is available on Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, and other music streaming platforms.