Prince-Bythewood’s ‘Beyond the Lights’ is about ‘being seen’

beyond the lights

“Beyond the Lights” is written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Mbatha-Raw.  The film charts the rise of Mbatha-Raw’s character Noni, a talented biracial Brit, who finds her talent and life usurped by an ambitious mother, played by Minnie Driver.  Noni morphs from a curly haired youngster, with an amazingly soulful voice, to a ‘video vixen’ version of herself even she cannot recognize.  Just as Noni is achieving worldwide success and about to embark on a solo career she finds herself on the brink of a devastating life choice that could end her life when an LA police officer, Kaz Nicole, steps in to intervene.  And as in any good love story Noni and Kaz, played by Nate Parker, find themselves immediately drawn to each other.

Of course the objections from her mother and Kaz’s dad, played by Danny Glover, erupt almost immediately.  Kaz is on a trajectory to become a politician and his father warns that Noni is not the type of girl you want by your side for the career he has in mind.  Parker – you’ll remember him from The Great Debaters – is warm, attentive and of course “hunky” in this role (the tee shirt scene is a winner).  Most importantly he doesn’t let the distractions of Noni’s world get in the way of trying to help her ‘see herself’.  Noni’s Mom is the broker behind Noni’s career and doesn’t want any distractions.  But Noni appears to have made a Faustian bargain that has the ability to drive her over the edge.

Kaz of course is the down to earth prince who has come to rescue her from herself.  Finally when she comes face to face with herself in the raw Noni finds herself drawn back to her musical inspiration, Nina Simone, and belts out an a cappella version of Simone’s Blackbird that catapults her life forward in a direction more in line with her lost vision of the future.

Noni is forever changed by her experience but must find the courage to stand on her own two feet and do what she must to support her dreams. Noni emerges with renewed focus on the career she wants.  Confronted by the isms of being a mulatto Black girl forces her to face them and reconcile.

Mbatha-Raw sings all of the Noni’s tracks herself, which were done by record producer, singer and songwriter The Dream. She also worked with vocal coach Debra Bird and Lady Gaga choreographer Lori Ann Gibson.  Personally, she favors soulful female songstresses like Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, which lend authenticity to her performance.

Be on the look out for some great cameos in the film including from BET’s CEO Debra Lee, Chaka Khan, Don Lemon, Roland Martin and Gayle King.   Chicago was the third screening of the film that hits theaters on Friday.   Prince-Bythewood’s passionate story mixed with Mbatha-Raw’s riveting performance make for a great evening of movie going.

Thumbs up for this romantic tale of Romance and coming of age!


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