“Black is King” and no, that statement is not limited to Beyonce’s critically acclaimed 2020 visual album, it is about the black culture and identity which unites millions of Black people across the world. And that was what Beyoncé, Nigerian singer Wizkid, Guyanese singer Saint Jhn and Blue Ivy Carter emphasised in Brown Skin Girl.
The video for Brown Skin Girl won the Best Music Video at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday, March 14th, 2021. Although less talked about, the genius behind the Brown Skin Girl music video is Jenn Nkiru, a Nigerian-British artist and director.
“It was so important to me in Brown Skin Girl that we represented all different shades of brown…” Beyonce said while explaining the development of the music video to the American chat show, Good Morning America.
“We wanted every character to be shot in a regal light — Jenn Nkiru came up with the black debutantes. It was important that we are all in this together and we’re all celebrating each other.”
Born and raised in Peckham, South London, Nkiru studied law in London before decamping to the United States to attend film school at Howard University in Washington DC.
In 2018, Nkiru was named one of the 200 women redefining the creative industries by The Dots and one of the 100 global Creative Superheroes shaping culture by Utopia in the same year.
Her first film En Vogue shot in 2014 by Bradford Young & Arthur Jafa screened internationally to critical success.
In 2017, her second film, Rebirth Is Necessary; a dreamlike art film centred on the magic and dynamism of Blackness past, present and future. The film went on to win the Canal + award at the Clermont Ferrand Film Festival and Best Documentary at the London Independent Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the 2018 Best Short Film award at Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival and also the 2018 Voice of a Woman award at Cannes.
In 2018, Nkiru was the second unit director of Ricky Saiz’s music video for Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Apeshit. Apeshit video received 8 nominations at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards, in categories Video of the Year, Best Collaboration, Best Hip-Hop Video, Best Cinematography, Best Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Choreography and Best Editing, winning Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. The music video was nominated for Best Music Video at the 61st Grammy Awards.
Nkiru has now worked on three projects with Beyonce – including an Ivy Park campaign for Adidas and, most recently, Black is King.
Nkiru’s 2019 documentary, Black to Techno centres on the origins of techno music in Detroit’s black community in the 1980s.
Jenn Nkiru hopes that her works would inspire the audience to ask questions.
“I’m interested in stories that require us to question ourselves and what it means to be ourselves. Ultimately, I want my work to encourage audiences to ask questions. Nothing is for sure. Everything can and is to be questioned if we want to move forward,” she told The Drum in an interview in 2018.
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