Gina Prince-Bythewood’s long-awaited follow up film after her success with Love and Basketball is shaping up to be a must-see this fall. Beyond the Lights storyline is as original as it is necessary in these times of accelerated pop stardom and the undisclosed hardships that haunt many who chose a life in the spotlight.
The film stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Nate Parker (Secret Life of Bees, Red Tail). Gugu’s character is named Noni Jean, a burgeoning pop star who is on the cusp of super stardom.
Parker stars as Kaz, a young Los Angeles police officer who is on the verge of actualizing his dreams of becoming more as well.
“Beyond the Lights was written in 2007. It was a story that was in my head and it was a real fight to get this film made,” Bythewood told audience members at the Urbanworld Film Festival after a screening this year. “But when you’re passionate about a story it fuels the fight. And, again, this was a fight. But we’re very passionate about excited about the film. They say your challenge is in your choices and I had two tremendous lead actors in this film in Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.”
In the movie, by all visual appearances, Jean’s life is about to make a change for the better. As the film opens, we find that Noni has just won a Grammy Award for a song recorded with rap artist Kid Culprit (played by Machine Gun Kelly) and her album is about to drop as well. But instead of being elated by her success, she’s depressed and suicidal at the thought of living her life under the unblinking eye of public scrutiny.
“When I first read the script I thought that Gina had done such a terrific job in showing kind of the underbelly of the music industry,” said Mbatha-Raw. “Yes, we have that sort of manufactured pop star imagery that we’re used to, but it also shows the psychological effects of fame. For me (it also shows) the idea of mental health and how, if you don’t have a sense of self-worth, it really doesn’t really matter if people are lauding you with all these accolades. For me, I felt like it was a worthwhile story. It was uplifting. The love story was beautiful and fun, and there was an intimacy and a realness to it that I thought was really refreshing.”
Beyond the Lights, originally titled Blackbird after the Nina Simone song of the same name, features an ensemble cast supporting Parker and Mbatha-Raw.
Each character deals with issues that have been thrust upon them by their parental figures. Minnie Driver’s performance as Macy Jean, mother of Noni, is outstanding as is Danny Glover’s performance as Captain David Nicol.
Beyond the Lights opens in theaters nationwide on November 14.