As I have said in the past, a movie really only has one image. The elements of the plot orbit around this image. They are held in place by the gravity of its representative power. In the case of Beast, a film that should in fact be called Lion Jaws, starring Hollywood hunk Idris Elba (a Black British actor often mentioned when there’s talk about the next James Bond), the moving image is Elba’s character, Dr. Nate Samuels, punching a computer-generated lion in the face. We saw the incredible punch in the trailer that dropped about two months ago. It made some noise on Twitter. Clearly, the film’s money registered its potential power. Post-COVID, people might not leave home to see a movie about a safari trip gone south; but they might want to see that punch: Did it TKO the lion? Did it not? And if not, what then happened to Dr. Nate Samuels and his daughters? The answer is found at the end of a disappointing, and, to be honest, pointless movie.
In the trailer for Beast, Idris Elba repels a lion by slamming it with a vicious right hook. Would that work? https://t.co/WVfrko1C6N— Slate (@Slate) August 16, 2022
The plot: A Black American family goes to South Africa to pick up the pieces of a marriage that ended first in divorce, then in death. At the bottom (eurocentrically speaking) of the Dark Continent, they met the second-most famous South African actor, Sharlto Copley (he plays Martin Battles, a white African safari guide—SA’s most famous actor is, of course, Charlize Theron). The Black American girls learn about their dad’s past, his friendship with Battles, and their mother, who was born in South Africa. Everything is going well until a rogue lion enters their little world. The lion is just killing humans because human poachers are killing lions. Poachers (invariably Black or brown), are at the top of Hollywood's go-to villains in films set in Africa—the others are warlords (Elba’s Beasts of No Nation) and dictators (Forest Whitaker’s The Last King of Scotland).
The most fascinating thing—fascinating because it is not surprising—is that white tyrants like P. W. Botha and Ian Smith rarely fit the bill for this Hollywood villainy. As for the IMF’s Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP—also known to Zimbabweans as Extra Suffering for African People), a real-world devil, it has yet to get a role in anything. It must sit around trendy cafes in Burbank explaining to friends how it had just auditioned for movies like Beast: “They were looking for a poacher, but I thought a powerful presentation of ESAP might change their minds. We will see what happens.”
If I were to make a guess, Beast was made to show the producers of James Bond films that the colonial mentality, as Fela Kuti called it, could actually remain intact with a Black Bond. Beast, a Dark Continent narrative to the core, could easily have been in the 1930s with a white family and lots of dead and frightened Black Africans. Empire need not worry about the darkness of 007. As you can see, Elba can also call Her Majesty with his shoe.