How “The Lion King” Relates to Black People

lion king1

{Note: I released my third book entitled, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens,” on April 6, 2014. Check it out, and help me spread the word!}

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I know….I know…. you’re thinking “First this guy writes about the Wizard of Oz, then The Godfather, and now the Lion King? Brother Agyei Tyehimba is overly-fascinated with fiction movies. He’s crazy!” In truth, wise people (which we are or hope to be) can glean truth and insight from ANYthing which contains it. And this includes: music, art, speeches, cartoons, movies, etc.

Disney released the original Lion King movie in 1994. At the time, my oldest daughter Nubia was two years-old. We saw the movie in the theater and later purchased the movie on video.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that Nubia watched that movie almost every day. I did as well. And this had much to do with the excellent story line, well-developed characters, and moving music score. Moreover, this movie was phenomenally accurate in its depiction of African ecology, geography, language (the characters had Swahili names), and animal life.

Almost 20 years later, the movie lives on through a highly-acclaimed Broadway play that has grossed almost one billion dollars since its inception, making it the highest-grossing Broadway play of all time.

Clearly, this story is more than a creative narrative of colorful animals in an African setting; Through the story of those various animals, we caught a glimpse of our own experience as African (Black people). Let’s begin with a summary of the movie.

  • The story centers around a pride of lions: King Mufasa, Queen Sarabi, and their newborn son, Simba. Mufasa and his wife righteously rule over the pridelands, showing respect for their environment and ensuring that everyone’s needs are provided for.
  • Scar, Mufasa’s literally green-eyed jealous brother, is heir to the throne, that is until Simba is born. Thus, while Simba’s birth represents cultural continuity and future leadership for the prideland, Scar views Simba as a threat to his own status and self-gratification.
  • Mufasa does a fine job of teaching Simba general morality and ethics, and how all animals are interconnected, but does not get to fully teach his son the art and science of how to be a lion.
  • Scar uses deceit and trickery to facilitate his brother Mufasa’s death (even making it seem like an accident); By doing this, he gets one step closer to the throne. But to actually assume the throne, he must get young Simba out of the way. After his attempt to kill Simba fails, he falsely persuades Simba to accept responsibility for his father’s death, and urges Simba to leave the prideland and never return (exile).
  • With Mufasa dead and Simba in exile (and presumed dead by his family) Scar unjustly claims authority as the new king. He joins forces with the strong but not-so-intelligent Hyenas who become his Gestapo-like army, repressing dissent from the lions and other animals, and supporting Scar’s tyrannical regime. Under Scar’s leadership, the lions and other animals starve and experience great misery.
  • Meanwhile, far away from his original village and culture, the now fatherless, confused and vulnerable Simba stumbles upon a meerkat (mongoose) and warthog (wild pig) respectively named “Timon” and “Pumbaa.” Interestingly,  the word Pumbaa literally means “simpleton,” “stupid,” or “carefree” in Swahili.
  • Timon and Pumbaa realize that Simba is their natural enemy; In normal circumstances, these creatures would be Simba’s lunch or dinner. To protect himself and his friend the clever Timon leads a campaign to socialize Simba away from being the authoritative and decisive lion he’s destined to be.
  • Disconnected from the knowledge of who he really is, and estranged from his culture (sound familiar?),  Simba begins to adopt Timon and Pumbaa’s dietary habits; Ignorant of his true role and authority as “king of the jungle,” Simba now runs behind his new-found associates singing “Hakuna Matata,” which in Swahili means, “No worries.” Review the lyrics of this song and you’ll see a form of resistance-free accomodationism this society attempts to foster among us:

“Hakuna Matata!
What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata!
Ain’t no passing craze

It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy....”

Clearly, the powers that be have nothing to fear from people that adopt a worry-free philosophy. Now how does all of this relate to us?

We interact with brothers and sisters in our community who’ve adopted the hakuna matata philosophy. When we solicit their signature on a petition to exonerate Assata Shakur, or invite them to join an organization to advocate for and liberate their people, we’re greeted with apathy and silence.

Just like Simba, Black people in America are deliberately estranged from our indigenous spiritual beliefs, languages, and worldview. And just like in the Lion King movie, wicked tyrants exploit our labor, murder and incarcerate our people, and peel away our civic powers.

Many of us are oblivious to these realities. Rather than assuming our rightful authority, we indulge ourselves in merriment and silliness (“Hakuna Mataata”).

The agents of our destruction and misery (ruthless corporations, corrupt and oppressive government agents/officials, police, etc.) work hard to have us accept our fate and befriend them rather than organizing to resist them and advance ourselves.

Just like Scar in the movie, some of our own folks deceive, steal, and violate us in an obsessive drive for power and authority they have not earned. Though they look like us, they support policies that subjugate us and collaborate with people/agencies that desise and degrade us.

Moreover, just like Simba, many of us were lied to and manipulated to abandon our communities and adopt the narcissistic and selfish attitudes of our enemies, even to the point of defending, excusing or justifying their evil deeds.

Fortunately for us, we are blessed with the ideas, leadership and fearlessness of individuals throughout history who have raised our consciousness, reminded us of our authority and helped us to overcome our own fears and doubts. In the Lion King, the monkey Rafiki (which means “my friend” in Arabic) is Mufasa’s loyal advisor who later reminds Simba that he must overcome his fear, assume his rightful authority and restore his community to its former greatness.

Of course Simba’s majestic father appears to him in death (ancestral spirit) telling him that he has forgotten who he is:

The question for us is, will WE remember who we are? Will WE take our rightful place on the throne? Will WE stand up and defend/advance our communities? Will WE wake up? Or will we will forsake our responsibilities and acommodate to our oppression?

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Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

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4 thoughts on “How “The Lion King” Relates to Black People

  1. Pingback: African People and the Lion King Musical | Becca Shiach

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