What does it mean to be truly exceptional? To be a prodigy in a world occupied by those who willfully subscribe to the ordinary? To be an anomaly amongst mediocrity?
For Joseph Bologne, the late-yet-renowned Chevalier de Saint-Georges, that was his life story during much of the mid-to-late 1700s in Paris, France. However, you’d be forgiven if no one ever taught you about who or why he’s such a prominent figure in Black history. One key reason for that is, well, the Powers That Be at that time fully intended it to be that way.
Thankfully his historic erasure will soon change for the better thanks to a new theatrical release by Fox Searchlight Pictures in the form of the groundbreaking biopic, Chevalier.
The phenomenal tale of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, is brought to life thanks to a stellar performance in the titular role by rising Young Black Hollywood sensation Kelvin Harrison Jr. (It Comes at Night ; Luce). The 28-year-old actor is bold in his portrayal of the OG Black Renaissance Man, who was not only a champion fencer but also an exceptionally talented violinist and composer. Harrison Jr. embodies all three aspects of Chevalier’s personality with precision and prowess, never overacting yet still managing to capture the high-energy emotion that comes with being the biracial son of a white settler and enslaved Senegalese woman.
Racial identity plays a huge role in the trials and tribulations that Chevalier is faced with throughout the film. From the cold welcome on his arrival in France as a child to being fetishized by famed French ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard as a young adult, even considering his heartbreaking fallout with Queen Marie Antoinette (seen above), the color of his skin was always a deciding factor in how he was treated by those around him. However, his irreplaceable talent as a musician and Black visionary overall is where the dichotomy of being both Black and gifted is ultimately understood.
In short, they loved him as a form of harmless entertainment but despised him the minute he wanted more for himself as a Black man.
There’s also a beautiful story in how Chevalier discovers his roots, which occurs after one gut-wrenching climax that makes him question all the love he’s ever received by those fair-skinned patron of Paris who once celebrated his existence. It’s through his mother Nanon, who becomes a link between him and his African housekeepers, that he truly discovers his Caribbean roots and uses it to find a source of power from within.
The film’s ending will leave you with enough open-ended questions to do some research on your own in regards to who Chevalier is, which we can assure you is well-worth the history lesson.
Along with Kelvin Harrison Jr., the cast is rounded out by an ensemble lineup of veteran and rising stars, including Samara Weaving as Marie-Josephine de Montalembert, Lucy Boynton as Marie Antoinette, Marton Csokas as Marc René – Marquis de Montalembert, Alex Fitzalan as Louis Philippe II – Duke of Orléans, singer/actress Minnie Driver as Marie-Madeleine Guimard and Ronke Adekoluejo as the aforementioned Nanon.
Chevalier is now playing exclusively in theaters. Watch the trailer below for a better look at why you need to see this triumphant tale of Black excellence:
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