In addition to Beyoncé taking on the role of Nala in The Lion King, the artist released The Lion King: The Gift, a 14-track album to accompany the live-action remake’s soundtrack.
We covered that and the South African artists, Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswa, who she included on the album last week.
The first single, Spirit, was an instant hit, but the music video has sparked controversy.
According to Zaza Hlalethwa for The Mail & Guardian, Spirit allegedly borrows its aesthetic from La Maison Noir: The Gift and The Curse, an 18-minute visual album accompanying South African artist Petite Noir’s eponymous 2018 EP.
Before we launch into the comparison, here’s La Maison Noir: The Gift and The Curse:
And here’s the video for Spirit:
Cool. On with the story.
The idea that Beyoncé borrowed from Petite Noir started on Twitter:
Yeah, I can kind of see it…
One of the arguably more salient similarities between the two works is the colour palette and material textures used in the wardrobes. Characters in both La Maison Noir and Spirit sport outfits in indistinguishable shades of red, blue and white.
In both cases, the garments are made of airy materials that allow them to be manipulated by the wind as the dancers move. This is in addition to scenes in both videos where the protagonists wear outfits and masks that are embroidered with cowry shells.
Other visual similarities between La Maison Noir and Spirit can be seen in their settings and the choreography, as well as how the videographers frame the characters.
As another Twitter user points out, though, Beyoncé has used this choreography and the colour pallet before:
La Maison Noir was directed by Ilunga and his wife Rochelle Nembhard, and represents the birth, death and rebirth of the artist.
Leading up to the visual album’s release in 2018, Nembhard told the M&G how while Ilunga worked on the music, she conceptualised the corresponding visuals. “La Maison Noir/The Black House [the visual album] is a pilgrimage through Yannick’s life since he was an adolescent up to now. It’s basically about putting one step in front of the other. But it’s also a visual interpretation of what being black means to us.”
In an interview before the release of The Gift, Beyoncé said this:
“The concept of the [Spirit] video is to show how God is the painter. Natural beauty and nature needs no art direction. It’s the beauty of colour, the beauty of melanin and the beauty of tradition.”
Spirit was directed by Jake Nava, the white British director who is also behind other Knowles music videos, including Crazy in Love, Flawless, Grown Womanand Partition. Spirit seems to explore themes of motherhood, femininity and a sense of community while the works above explore sexual agency, relationships, independence and individuality.
You could also argue that Spirit took inspiration from a number of different sources including The Lion King (the desert setting), and Solange’s visual album When I Get Home which features similar choreography.
Oh, and Lemonade, Beyoncé’s visual album.
Right, on to the legalese:
According to Nishan Singh, a partner at Adams & Adams who specialises in trademark and copyright law, copyright is infringed when, for example, a third party reproduces or adapts a work without licence or the authorisation of the copyright owner. If the essence of the work has been copied — as in the setting, costume design and choreography — it is considered an infringement and, as such, as plagiarism.
But who does the culpability lie with if the concept comes from the creative director and not necessarily the artist portraying the similarities? Singh says that if a work is created under employment it belongs to the employer, who, in the case of Spirit, is Beyoncé.
So is this stealing? Borrowing? Inspiration?
I’ll leave you to decide.
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