The moment in Disney’s live-action “Lion King” remake most likely to evoke the thought, “Oh, that’s Beyoncé” — excluding the musical numbers, of course — arrives soon after adult Simba returns to Pride Rock, which his Uncle Scar has turned into a dreadful, desolate place. The two of them spar, and when Scar implies that his nephew doesn’t have enough support to reclaim the throne that is rightfully his, Nala, now Simba’s partner, steps forward to boldly challenge that notion.
“Are you with me, lions?” Nala thunders in an extremely “Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation” fashion.
Beyoncé's involvement in “The Lion King” has dominated headlines leading up to the release of the film, for which she voiced adult Nala, recorded an original song called “Spirit” and curated an upcoming companion album. Social media was abuzz with footage of music royalty (Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z) meeting actual royalty (the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) at the London premiere this past weekend, where the iconic singer’s fellow voice actors continued to be star-struck by her very presence: “Guys I did it,” Seth Rogen captioned an Instagram photo of himself standing next to the 23-time Grammy winner.
But for all her musical prowess, Beyoncé's film career leading up to this point has been fine, at best — something that even the most loyal Beyhive members would probably admit. Given the immensity of what she has accomplished elsewhere in the entertainment industry, it only makes sense for Queen Bey’s talents to falter in one area; her acting has been widely described as a little flat, and one-note.
This doesn’t make her sporadic on-screen gigs any less fun to revisit. Beginning with the 2001 TV movie “Carmen: A Hip Hopera,” directed by Robert Townsend, Beyoncé has popped up in an eclectic assortment of projects that make up for her iffy acting by showcasing her robust voice. Consider her roles as Foxxy Cleopatra, a character parodying blaxploitation heroines, in 2002′s “Austin Powers in Goldmember”; Lilly, a woman harshly judged by her community for being a nightclub singer who had a child out of wedlock, in the 2003 dramedy “The Fighting Temptations”; the pop star Xania in 2006′s “The Pink Panther”; or real-life soulstress Etta James in 2008′s “Cadillac Records.”
And then there’s “Dreamgirls,” of course, the 2006 musical on which Beyoncé was the second-billed actor after Jamie Foxx. Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson wound up earning the most critical praise of the film’s performers, especially due to the latter’s powerhouse rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Though there were rumors the two actresses didn’t get along due to Hudson, a newcomer, having a more substantial role as Effie White, Beyoncé eventually told MTV News that she accepted the role of Deena Jones knowing that she “didn’t have the part with the most drama, I was fine with that.”
“I’m not doing this to become a star or prove that I can sing,” she continued. “I’ve already won nine Grammys and everyone knows that I can sing. I did this mainly to know I can act, to know myself and show everyone else that I could. I’m extremely happy with the movie.” (Though it must be noted that Beyoncé somewhat shadily added, “Why would I be mad at Jennifer? I can only imagine the pressure she had being a woman that’s never had an album, never done a movie.” Hudson would go on to win an Oscar for her role.)
Arguably the most confounding part Beyoncé has taken on is that of Idris Elba’s wife in “Obsessed,” a 2009 thriller that has a whopping 19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Without her angelic vocals to distract us, viewers must instead focus on the tired “Fatal Attraction”-like plot, which centers on a woman named Lisa Sheridan (Ali Larter), whose obsession with her boss Derek Charles (Elba) escalates into stalker status. Derek repeatedly rejects Lisa’s advances as he is happily married to his wife, Sharon (Beyoncé), who suspects an affair until she learns the truth. The movie culminates in an almost surreal fight between Sharon and Lisa, who had broken into the Charles home and decorated the master bed with rose petals.
Two years ago, the Ringer revisited “Obsessed” and deemed Beyoncé “the good bad movie star.”
Perhaps it is for the best that the singer’s biggest movie gig of the past decade is as a voice actor, her third time doing so. Before Nala, Beyoncé voiced Queen Tara in the 2013 animated feature “Epic” — and before that, Shine, the lead singer of a band called the Wubb Girls in a few episodes of the Nickelodeon children’s series “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”