On the very first edition of The Movie Chickk Pick Of The Week our top choice was BEYOND THE LIGHTS. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who you may know from LOVE & BASKETBALL or THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, this film was even more than we hoped for. BEYOND THE LIGHTS is described as follows:
The pressures of fame have superstar singer Noni on the edge, until she meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be.
As a lover of both of Prince-Bythewoods first two films I was extremely excited to see what she cooked up next. When I heard that both Nate Parker (NON-STOP, THE GREAT DEBATERS) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw were signed on I was even more enticed by the project. Mbatha-Raw was most recently seen in BELLE, where she starred as the mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral who is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle in 18th century England, and she stole every scene she was in. While you could see she had talent in BELLE, Gugu had not yet been given the chance to show if she also had versatility as an actress. As trailers started to hit, I became much more interested in seeing the film and both its lead stars. I knew from the past work of Prince-Bythewood that we would get a great story with heart and relatable characters, what I did not expect was to be completely moved from start to finish everything down to the soundtrack had my heart in its grip.
From the opening scene with Noni (India Jean-Jacques) singing, a tear-jerking performance of Nina Simone’s Blackbird, at a talent competition as a young girl, till the end of the film I was completely drawn in and mesmerized. The next time we meet Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is in a Rihanna-esque music video showing us the all too familiar over-sexualization of women in the music industry, with her intense stage mother Macy Jean (Minnie Driver) right at her side pushing her along the way. Within the first 30 minutes of the film we meet Kaz (Nate Parker) or “Officer Hero” after an accident that threatens Noni’s life and career, but not only are we shown this chance encounter we are also given a raw glimpse into the entertainment industry. The price of fame versus the pay offs are staring at us in the face and we are given time throughout the film to weigh out the options of success and failure, and what each of those mean. The viewer is teased with the glamorous life while being thrusted into “playing the part” and the gritty side of fame and the paparazzi. The heavy weighted themes of fame, fortune, politics, sacrifice and payoffs remain strong throughout the film and demand you pay attention to not only the celebrity but the person behind the persona. While the world and her mother are pushing Noni further into her career and the spotlight, tearing off her clothes while tearing her apart the only constant in her life becomes Kaz. He is a strong man with even stronger values, who may be being thrown into a monster of another kind at the same time.
With Noni and Kaz we are given, at first glance, two characters who seem so different from such different worlds, but at a closer look we are given two souls who are both being pushed out of who they are and into who the world, or their overbearing parents, think they should be. It is no doubt due to the storytelling of Prince-Bythewood that we are given such beautiful characters to fall in love with, that are relatable and that we are given such in-depth character development that forces you to not only root for them but to feel for them. Each character is extremely layered and through the course of the film it is a gift to be able to see some of those layers stripped down where we get to see the truth of not only who they both are, but the potential of who each could become.
When walking into this film I knew without a doubt that I would be watching an enjoyable romantic drama that I would most likely want to come back to time and time again, but I had no idea just how much the film would not only inspire me but move me to take action. The film forces you to take a closer look at yourself, who you are and who you portray you are to others. To take a look at how your actions affect those you love and the rest of the world. It also takes a good hard look at the reality of the industry. BEYOND THE LIGHTS takes you to the raw uncut world of the entertainment business, the ugly truths are shown with no apology and it forces you as a viewer to think twice. We look at actors, singers & entertainers and we put them up on this pedestal, we idolize them, we want to be like them, and we hold them to standards that are most of the time completely unattainable and then we laugh as we watch them fall, tearing them down the pedestals we just put them up on. We never stop to think about the person or their families and how all of our actions put pressure on the lives they lead. We don’t stop to think twice about them as people, we don’t look beyond the lights we instead look at the glossed over images and judge. The film showed the intensity of social media and the hand it plays in not only building someone up but tearing them down and hiding behind our keyboards ripping apart the lives of a person we know nothing about.
Gina Prince-Bythewood has not been quiet about her struggle to get this film made and has talked openly about how it almost didn’t happen. One of the main reasons she had such a hard time was that Hollywood took issue with two African-American leads. I am disheartened and ashamed that in 2014 I even have to type those words, that studios actually wanted her to recast the roles and had no issues asking her to do so. It is beyond mind-blowing and disgusting to me that this was even an issue, and makes me respect Prince-Bythewood all the more for sticking to her beliefs, standing her ground and not sacrificing her project for a paycheck.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a must see film for so many reasons, beyond a wonderful story with stellar performances, there are many valuable lessons to be taken from the film. Yes it is a story about love but more importantly one about life, sacrifice and finding your own truth. To me there is nothing in life more important than finding your own truth, being comfortable in your own skin and leading a life that is fulfilled and meaningful and this film shows just that. As if you need any more reasons to see this film this last one may be the most important, it is time we show Hollywood that having a wonderful film with an amazing lead and talent has nothing to do with the color of your skin and the only way to do that is by showing up at the box office and buying a ticket, so I suggest you go ahead and buy that ticket, you will not be disappointed. BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a beyond moving film with a beautiful story and stand out performances. Parker and Driver were fantastic but Gugu Mbatha-Raw stole the show, she has more than proven her talent and a star is born. If you liked THE BODYGUARD than you will not want to miss this.
Check out my video on BEYOND THE LIGHTS and let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below!