Beyond the Lights

I might be a little late seeing this, but as they say, it's better late than never.  Over the weekend I saw Beyond the Lights with my family, and I loved it!  It's not surprising that I have taken a liking to this film, especially since it was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who is also the writer of Love and Basketball, another favorite of mine.  I am a hopeless romantic, and romantic drama is my favorite genre of movies.   The film stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni Jean, Nate Parker as Officer Kaz Nicol, Minnie Driver as Noni's mother Macy Jean, and Danny Glover as Kaz's father  Captain David Nicol.  More than just another film with a star-studded cast, Beyond the Lights packs a well-written and developed message about fame, and its impact on the famous.  I want to share my interpretation of the movie without giving too much away, so here it goes…

The movie follows the rise to stardom of pop singer Noni Jean who is managed by her mother.  It was originally titled Blackbird after the Nina Simone song, and one of the opening scenes is of Noni singing it in a talent show, and later remaking it.  From the outside looking in, Noni has “it all”: a Billboard Music Award before her album drops, a rapper boyfriend, and millions of fans screaming her name.  Overwhelmed by her success, Noni is saved from committing suicide by Officer Kaz Nichol.  Soon after being rescued by her knight in shining armor, Kaz and Noni become involved in a whirlwind relationship, despite the selfish ambitions of their parents.  Noni’s mother is pushing for her to stay focused on her rising music career, sell the music the label wants her to put out, and be an overly sexualized artist.  Meanwhile Kaz’s father urges him to focus on his image as he is preparing to run for a political office.  I believe that parents ultimately want the best for their children, but sometimes they try to make their dreams, their child’s dream.  Just as in most cases, the more the parents push, the more their children pull away.  This story shows us that when we are in the business of people pleasing, we lose our voice.  For Noni, the deafening sound of everyone screaming her name, her mother’s ill-advisement, and losing herself in the lights, cameras, and action of stardom became too much, and she almost became, what a reporter in the movie described as, “a casualty of her own success”. 

Beyond the Lights reminds us that no matter what someone may look like on the outside, their inside can be the complete opposite.  You may never know exactly what they are going through.  You cannot accurately know who someone is or what they are going through just by looking at their social media pages or seeing them on stages or on the big screen.  There is a façade that we put on as a defense mechanism to keep people out.  We can’t let everyone know exactly what we’re going through, because it’ll make us look weak and vulnerable.  If we take a moment to actually look beyond the lights, filters, and social sites, then you will see that we are all human and susceptible to being hurt.  It should be no surprise that my favorite part of the movie is when Noni takes out her purple extensions, and wears her naturally curly hair for the first time, and Kaz loved it, but what mattered most is that she began to love herself, again.  In an interview with Vogue magazine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw said, “Even though it’s a love story set in the music industry, it’s about loving yourself first.”  I believe that the major dynamics in play in this film are facing your fears, self-respect, and seeing someone for who they really are.  Both Noni and Kaz saw the best in each other, and loved what they saw.  I think that is what we all want.  Someone we can be our bare selves with, unconditionally, with no filter. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you haven’t seen the movie, I encourage you to go see it!  If you have, let’s start a discussion in the comments.  I would love to talk about the different issues and elements discussed in the movie. Check out Noni's remake of Blackbird, here: