The Lion’s Share Review

The Lion's Share
AKA: The Lion’s Share: The Lion Sleeps Tonight Story
Genre: Music Documentary/Docudrama
Year Released: 2019
Distributor: Netflix

Origin: USA/South Africa
Running Time: 84 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-14
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: A Lion’s Trail, Who Shot the Sheriff?, Bananas!*, Kimba the White Lion, Devil at the Crossroads, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti, The N-Word
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:

-The Lion’s Share is part of Netflix’s Remastered series which involves music documentaries with certain song or musicians highlighted.

-Speaking of the Remastered series, this was curated as well as directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist. They’ve worked on multiple 30 for 30 ESPN docs and The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

-Journalist Rian Malan is prominently featured in this documentary. He is most famous for his book My Traitor’s Heart and his work in Rolling Stone magazine where he first broke the story about the Linda family. He also has an album filled with original songs sung in Afrikaans.

-Solomon Linda was from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and invented a choral subgenre of music called Mbube which was named after his biggest hit that would unfortunately be plagiarized.

-Joseph Shabalala from Ladysmith black Mambazo makes a cameo appearance in this documentary.

-Linda’s daughters are currently based in the Zola area in South Africa which has over 44,777 people in that town and it’s part of the Johannesburg metro area.


Some of my previous readers already know this with certain reviews I’ve done, but for those of you who are new, then I have an uncomfortable truth for you. The Lion King was built on a legacy of theft. Let’s count the ways, shall we? First of all, there’s the 1965 Japanese animated series Kimba the White Lion. You have to be blind or delusional not to see the insane amount of similarities between scenes, plot points, and several characters. This is all documented among other factors such as the attempted cease and desist suit against the North American debut of Jungle Emperor Leo (1997) in Canada, but there are obvious things by just watching that show. Second of all, Disney trademarked the phrase “Hakuna Matata” which they didn’t invent that saying to begin with and it’s pure cultural appropriation no matter how you look at it. If we’re going by a pure official language status standpoint, then one could make a case that they stole from five countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC for short). Thirdly, just this year after Jon Favreau’s not-live action remake was released, Nala…I mean Beyonce released the music video for her song “Spirit” which lifts imagery and scenes from South African musician Petite Noir’s long form music video for his “La Maison Noir” EP which was released just last year. Why do so many Lion King fans still defend Disney’s actions for all of this? I seriously wonder if these fans care more about their fandom, nostalgia, and childhood feelings more than people getting robbed of their culture and/or intellectual property.

Going back to South Africa, did you know that there’s a famous song associated with that movie among other commercials and TV shows that was a part of this thieving spree? Now you do.

The Lion’s Share deals with a famous song, a lawsuit, and the aftermath of all the events. Going back to 1939, there was a singer in South Africa named Solomon Linda. He was a very influential songwriter who created this song called “Mbube” (Zulu for lion) which was a huge hit in his home country and sold 100,000 copies. Linda licensed the song for international use, but he never got any penny for his song which would be plagiarized by the likes of Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, and most notably The Tokens who renamed the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” which everybody knows to this day. That song (particularly The Tokens’ version) has and is still used in so many commercials, TV shows, and movies. Then 1994 happened when Disney released The Lion King which raked in so much money. The film alone made $15 million in royalties from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and that doesn’t even count with the Broadway adaptation. Solomon Linda’s surviving daughters were in impoverished areas and had enough of this, so they decided to sue the licensing company who screwed over their dad who died penniless and Disney for stealing their father’s song. They are helped with a copyright lawyer and with a journalist Rian Malan who felt horrible that the Linda family was swindled by one roaring song. As they try to get writing credits and royalties, how would things play out?

I thought I was well-versed on how much The Lion King ripped off things, but I legitimately didn’t know “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” had this much baggage and was part of the thievery associated with that movie. For some reason, I believed that it was based on some traditional Zulu folk song, but I was thoroughly corrected in an online chat of all things when someone brought up Rian Malan’s original article after myself and others mentioned Kimba and the Hakuna Matata trademark controversy (long story). Seeing the faces and names of the major parties involved was mind-blowing. Rian Malan was a fascinating person to say the least. His ancestor was one of the people responsible for Apartheid in South Africa, yet he didn’t want to be like him and wanted to help the Black majority in numerous ways. He’s honest that he’s not as well-versed in cultural ally-ship, but out of a sense of guilt and justice, he wants to right this colonial wrong when Solomon Linda’s song was stolen. As much as I thought it would invoke White Savior elements, it certainly was a subversion by seeing him wanting to help the Linda family for the right reasons while also acknowledging the colonizing past from the White minority rule. The Linda sisters gave this a great dynamic in their interviews. They had obvious insider knowledge about the song and their dad (obviously), but they had such great insight and I felt sorry for them being swindled for decades. Delphi had the greatest quote in the film and I have to mention it here: “To think that the people of The Lion King are earning large sums of money with my father’s song. We were wounded that the children of the songwriter go hungry, but the Americans are fat with our father’s song. That hurt.” What made this hurt even more was that they had another sister who died in the early 00s due to HIV/AIDS. This made me sick because her life would’ve been prolonged if their family got the money from Disney and the licensing company. I even got furious seeing songwriter George David Weiss in archived footage saying that he got inspiration from that song from God. All I could do was reference a certain parody song that achieved meme status about him lying. Besides the story of this one song, the production was really good. The style did remind me of PBS’s American Experience documentaries, but they don’t resort to talking heads all the time, show great landscape shots of South Africa, and some mixed footage. One usage which I thought was funny was after the lawyers talked about starting the lawsuit after coaxing the South African government to cancel Disney’s national trademarks of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in that country, there’s a clip from The Lion King where Mufasa yells “Is that a challenge?” to Scar once they throw the gauntlet in the courtroom. Not going to lie, that situation re-contexualizes that scene in a hilarious way. This was so informative and the production added to the content of the film.

The Lion’s Share was certainly strong, but I wished there were aspects where the filmmakers could’ve been better prepared (That was a Kimba reference, by the way. You’re welcome!). I wished there was more insight not just from the Linda sisters, but from more South African musicians. Besides the Ladysmith Black Mambazo cameo, they could’ve really talked to other musicians inspired by Solomon Linda like those in those choirs or do Zulu-based music. I did enjoy the realism of the event, but things get really sad and the court case didn’t turn out the way everyone had planned (Spoiler alert: The 2019 Lion King remake still uses “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as mentioned at the end of The Lion’s Share!). I would’ve also liked to have seen interviews with Disney, but I’m sure they would’ve been too scared or too prideful to show up to accidentally incriminate themselves. There should’ve been more footage or music from Solomon Linda besides the “Mbube” song because I wanted to know about his other works. I understand the focus was on “Mbube”/“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, but that would’ve been a nice extra touch. There was even a blame game which really went nowhere. I won’t spoil everything, but there were accusations as to how the money was spent or even given. Part of me wanted the documentary to have been harder on Disney as sadistic as I sound. They certainly call them out and talk about how whet they did was cultural appropriation, but I think they could’ve brought in more aspects of that company’s history of racism or their dubious depiction of Africa in general (okay, they did part of it with that racist old school Mickey Mouse cartoon clip, but they didn’t go farther). The Lion’s Share does a ton of research, but certain things could’ve been expanded upon.

This documentary was such an eye-opener and really educated me on this famous South African song. The production and interview questions were spot on. The Linda sisters weren’t used as props and they really put a face on what would happen when people are screwed over by bigwig companies for stupid reasons. The Lion’s Share really goes deep into that lawsuit situation. Trust me, you will hate The Lion King or at the very least not look at that movie franchise the same way again once you watch this documentary. I do wish that they could’ve been less restrained and I’m not just talking about Rian Malan flipping the bird in one brief interview scene. The Lion’s Share was a great expose almost to the level of Big Boys Gone Bananas!* or The Central Park Five. Solomon Linda, you and your descendants deserved so much better.

P. S. If you’re curious about why I have less than favorable thoughts on The Lion King, then check out this post I wrote on the Ospreyshire blog. Things will make so much more sense.

P. P. S. You should also check out K at The Movies’ review of the 2019 TLK remake. Despite our difference of opinions on that Disney franchise, he did a great job writing it and it shows how much Disney plays off of nostalgia for the wrong reasons.


Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1 point if you love expose documentaries.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re a hardcore Lion King fan.
Subtract 1 point if the concepts of cultural appropriation and plagiarism makes you uncomfortable.


Pros:

-Great amount of research on the plagiarism case
-The Linda sisters’ testimonies
-Amazing production values

Cons:

-They could’ve gone harder on Disney
-More representation from Black South African musicians
-Lack of representation in Solomon Linda’s catalog

Final Score: 9/10 points

Content Warning: The Lion’s Share would be best for older teens and up. Sure, the content involves Disney and an innocent song, but there’s more to it than that. The language gets very strong at parts, Rian Malan uses his middle finger to prove a point in one brief scene, and some of the dialogue is better for older audiences. The concepts of cultural appropriation, plagiarism, Apartheid, and AIDS will be lost on younger viewers. There’s also archived footage of a very old Mickey Mouse cartoon which has a very offensive portrayal of Africans and shows them as barbaric and even cannibalistic. Disney’s not so innocent, don’t ya think?

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Lion’s Share is property of Netflix. The movie poster is from IMDb and is property of Netflix.

18 comments

  1. It sounds like an interesting doc and an interesting though rather unfortunate story. Copyright is wild, when George Harrison can get hit with “stealing music subconsciously” and Katy Perry for vaguely similar progressions but pretty blatant rips go unpunished. Then when you try to do international cases… things get so muddy and the international provisions seem somewhat archaic.

    I certainly don’t disagree when it comes to the morally bankrupt beside the scenes; it is certainly an interesting case of separating art and artists. I definitely understand where you’re coming from, for me I think there’s always the possibly of being blissfully ignorant of the actions or beliefs of the people behind the scenes so I try to see it as the product of collaboration. Learning these things do make it’s a real shame but I wouldn’t say I enjoy the voice performances, songs, or vibrant color schemes any less. I don’t know it comes down to a lot in preference and opinion I make a distinction between a film or a book which is like a product versus like the actual person like Lance Armstrong; completely fair to call both out as frauds just the same but I don’t know seem to have different association levels with the baggage.

    Thanks for the Post script mention, it’s certainly great discussions and information your sharing so thanks for including me and saying some nice things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is interesting and I would’ve never even heard or sought after it had it not have been for that conversation on another blogger’s post. Copyright is certainly bizarre. I did hear about the George Harrison case and obviously the Katy Perry one was talked about a lot recently. It really makes my blood boil when I see blatant theft in any artistic discipline. Sure, there are some cases where the original artists win such as the few times Led Zeppelin lost in court cases, Matt Cardle’s co-writers/producers bashing Ed Sheeran with his song “Photograph”, or The GAP Band winning against Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars when part of their song blatantly stole from “Oops Up Side Your Head”. I agree international copyright cases can be trickier and a headache and a half to sue people.
      Sure thing and thanks for agreeing that much. Granted my issues weren’t just about the plagiarism even if it was relevant to this particular review with all the evidence in the movie when it came to Solomon Linda’s song. There are so many sketchy people in high places especially in media. I didn’t know how much you knew about the Solomon Linda case or the other issues beforehand. Not going to lie, I used to really like that Disney movie as a kid. Some aspects of that film franchise made it harsher for me in hindsight when I did research on my discovered heritage via a DNA test and how my ancestors could’ve been starved out in real life “elephant graveyards”, so to speak with one of my major ethnic samples (I found out I’m part Congolese and reading about Leopold made me sick even before that revelation). What bothers me besides the theft were the double standards of how both pieces of animation are treated by the public which I elaborate on in that Ospreyshire post and my Kimba review I did a couple of years ago. The Lance Armstrong analogy is an interesting one an I see the comparisons there. To be honest, it’s really hard for me to separate the art/product from the person or people which is why (for other examples) I can’t look at Rurouni Kenshin the same way after the atrocious things creator Nobuhiro Watsuki did or why I will not feature reviews involving Roman Polanski films on Iridium Eye. Just my thoughts on the matter.
      No problem, K. I know we have our own ways of reviewing films and anime, but I still appreciate your style of reviewing. We’ve had good discussions and you do know about movies outside of the Hollywood zeitgeist which I respect. Even though I’ve linked to other reviews on other posts, your review on that remake is the first time I’ve ever linked to a review for a mainstream movie and a Disney one at that. This is something I thought I would NEVER do since starting the blog. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess so and thank you. It’s cool that you appreciate my content. I’m just being honest about these thing here and there have been times when people felt really uncomfortable when I talk about some uncomfortable truths or opinions. It would also be nice if Disney would finally give credit to Osamu Tezuka, Solomon Linda, and Petite Noir while also dropping the Hakuna Matata trademark, but that’s wishful thinking.

        Like

  2. It really is interesting and I would’ve never even heard or sought after it had it not have been for that conversation on another blogger’s post. Copyright is certainly bizarre. I did hear about the George Harrison case and obviously the Katy Perry one was talked about a lot recently. It really makes my blood boil when I see blatant theft in any artistic discipline. Sure, there are some cases where the original artists win such as the few times Led Zeppelin lost in court cases, Matt Cardle’s co-writers/producers bashing Ed Sheeran with his song “Photograph”, or The GAP Band winning against Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars when part of their song blatantly stole from “Oops Up Side Your Head”. I agree international copyright cases can be trickier and a headache and a half to sue people.

    Sure thing and thanks for agreeing that much. Granted my issues weren’t just about the plagiarism even if it was relevant to this particular review with all the evidence in the movie when it came to Solomon Linda’s song. There are so many sketchy people in high places especially in media. I didn’t know how much you knew about the Solomon Linda case or the other issues beforehand. Not going to lie, I used to really like that Disney movie as a kid. Some aspects of that film franchise made it harsher for me in hindsight when I did research on my discovered heritage via a DNA test and how my ancestors could’ve been starved out in real life “elephant graveyards”, so to speak with one of my major ethnic samples (I found out I’m part Congolese and reading about Leopold made me sick even before that revelation). What bothers me besides the theft were the double standards of how both pieces of animation are treated by the public which I elaborate on in that Ospreyshire post and my Kimba review I did a couple of years ago. The Lance Armstrong analogy is an interesting one an I see the comparisons there. To be honest, it’s really hard for me to separate the art/product from the person or people which is why (for other examples) I can’t look at Rurouni Kenshin the same way after the atrocious things creator Nobuhiro Watsuki did or why I will not feature reviews involving Roman Polanski films on Iridium Eye. Just my thoughts on the matter.

    No problem, K. I know we have our own ways of reviewing films and anime, but I still appreciate your style of reviewing. We’ve had good discussions and you do know about movies outside of the Hollywood zeitgeist which I respect. Even though I’ve linked to other reviews on other posts, your review on that remake is the first time I’ve ever linked to a review for a mainstream movie and a Disney one at that. This is something I thought I would NEVER do since starting the blog. Thank you.

    Like

  3. I never would’ve guessed “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was also a part of The Lion King’s ravenous plagiarism. It’s sad to hear considering how much I loved The Lion King as a child. Sadly, tis’ the hard, uncomfortable truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same here. I didn’t know about the aspects of the plagiarism and cultural appropriation outside of Kimba until last year starting with the “Hakuna Matata” trademark which made me so furious and that was weeks after I found out I was part Congolese. I used to really like The Lion King when I was a child, too. It’s a shame how Disney hasn’t owned up to this negative baggage and that’s not even getting into the racist undertones of the movie. It really is an uncomfortable truth.

      Now if I can inject some humor into this conversation, creating my 2019 recap was hilarious because I swear after that Lion King remake came out, all my Kimba/Jungle Emperor Leo reviews, The Lion’s Share post, and even my Top 7 Underrated Anime Villains list all skyrocketed in search engine traffic and hits. The last one makes sense because I put Claw from Kimba on the list. If you don’t know anything about that character, all I can say is that Tezuka Productions didn’t get to be prepared in how hard and shamelessly their villain would get ripped off in America.

      Thanks for checking out this review, Inskidee!

      Liked by 1 person

      • LOL that’s amazing! It’s a good thing more people saw your posts addressing that plagiarism!

        And It was my pleasure getting to read your review! I think this is information that will stick with me for a long time 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! I know, right? I hope it gave people some brain food about that situation with the plagiarism and other questionable things the House of Mouse did.

        Awesome and thank you. I’m glad you got something out of this information.

        Liked by 1 person

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