Let’s Talk About “Beyond the Lights”

Like so many of you (who have heard of Beyond the Lights), I was not sure if it would be worth the 2 hours and $13. However, it’s a love story starring a bi-racial artist and an African American aspiring politician that’s written/directed by the person behind the classic Love and Basketball. So of course I watched it.

For those of you who don’t know. It’s a movie about Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a pop-star who attempts to jump off a building, but is literally saved by Kaz (Nate Parker), a noble police officer who wants to save the world through public service. From there their love grows.

And I loved it. Oh, how I loved it. Do you understand that Beyond the Lights represents everything I want to accomplish as a storyteller?! Here’s why:

  • It’s character driven. The plot isn’t completely original, but the characters are well-written and well-acted in this case. As we get to know them throughout the movie, their actions and reactions make sense.
  • It’s a love story. I love love stories and I hadn’t seen a really good one in a while. This was a good one.
  • It’s a love story starring non-white people. I don’t like this concept of telling a story where the characters “just happen to be black” because I feel like that aspect of one’s identity shouldn’t be ignored, even if it’s not the point of the story. I think this movie does a good job being a love story first, but also acknowledging the unique backgrounds of the characters. For example, the main character Noni is biracial (not uncommon), but she actually has a white parent – Minnie Driver – who plays a major role in her life (surprisingly uncommon)! I mean it’s so obvious and easy to have a bi-racial person depicted with a white parent, but how often do mixed people actually see themselves represented in that way?
  • The music was awesome. It was sooo on point, and helped tell the story. That’s the thing about fiction, it has to make sense. You can’t just have any song playing in the background and at any moment, every detail has to help move the story along—and in this case it did.

I encourage you to check the movie out!!  Or at least the soundtrack! 🙂

 

 

What do Tyler Perry and Scandal Have in Common?

Let’s start with Tyler Perry.

A long time ago, when I was just wide-eyed girl living in Queens, NY, I would go to the movies. And every season or so, those movies would star black people. I watched Love & Basketball, Brown Sugar, Soul Food, Love Jones, The Best Man and even The Wood, and life was good. Then I went to college, and a move came out called “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” It was OK, no beef. Then another Tyler Perry movie came out. Well, can’t have a good black movie every season, I thought. But then another came out. Then another. Until an entire generation (generation being 10 years for my purposes) had no idea what a non-Tyler Perry black movie was. And real actresses like Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett were forced to act in his movies too—just to get food on the table.

I have my issues with TP, but I will say this: he gave a lot of black actors work, who may not have been able to find it otherwise. And, more importantly, he made a lot of money. It is my belief that at some point the non-TP studios realized, if that Madea stuff can make money, just imagine what would happen if we produced a move that was actually good?? What followed was a season when a bunch of black movies were out around the same time: The Best Man Holiday, Black Nativity, The Butler, Mandela. And that was good.

Tyler Perry reminded movie execs that stories about minority people can be profitable. This fact had already been established, but like the generation who thought TP movies were the only black movies ever to exist, a generation of people hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, and therefore couldn’t believe it to be true.

I think the same thing can be said about Scandal. Scandal wasn’t successful in spite of having an African-American star, I would argue that a large part of that success was because of Kerry Washington. Because the show was making history, it received a greater amount of coverage and instant fan loyalty. I have more thoughts about Scandal and Shondaland, but that’s the point I’m trying to make for now.

As much as I love Scandal, do I think it’s the perfect example of how to utilize minority characters in mainstream media? No. Similarly, do I think Tyler Perry movies accurately portray African American life? Hell no.

But both Tyler Perry and Scandal told the world that stories about minority characters are worthy of investment. So my question is this- who is going to teach that to the publishing industry?