Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star as an unlikely couple in the romantic comedy, Beyond the Lights. A British singer, Noni Jean (Mbatha-Raw), is wrestling with instant fame and identity issues when she meets a LAPD officer, Kaz Nicol (Parker) who saves her life. With many forces against them, the pair tries to preserve their young love.

It has been 14 years since Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote and directed Love and Basketball. Black audiences instantly fell in love with the chronological love of two athletes, who despite a rough patch of distance prevailed as childhood sweethearts. When Prince-Bythewood created Beyond the Lights, Relativity Media made a bad decision by closely connecting the two films in their marketing and promotions.

Realizing that the 2000 film was Prince-Bythewood’s biggest work and most notable love story, the connection instantly creates room for comparison. Besides love and Gina Prince-Bythewood, these are two different movies that should be valued as separate entities.

In every way possible, Noni and Kaz just did not flare the same spark and fan admiration as Monica and Quincy. The stories and setting were almost opposite and movies overall messages were not even in the same ballpark. The best way to appreciate Beyond the Lights is to separate the movies from its predecessor.

Beyond the Lights was not memorable and, even in the midst two hours, there was nothing left for the imagination or memory. While believable, the couple was your average atypical romance met with adversity, hurt, and reconciliation.
Mbatha-Raw’s character literally transforms from self-absorbed prom queen to a natural hair, modern woman, all in the name of love. Even though Noni is a fictional character, the woman she transformed into was the same woman I saw a few weeks ago at St. Benedict the Moor church. On set of Will Smith’s new movie, Concussion, it is clear that her “raw”, jovial talent is a mere reflection of who she really is.

She literally walked on that movie set and the room immediately lit up- no lashes, makeup, weave, and acrylic nails.  Similar to her royal role in Belle, Mbatha-Raw has used her multi-racial background in movies to address identity issues that many women are facing. Who am I? What does it mean to be comfortable in my own skin? Does artificial body enhancements define my self-image?

3 Stars: Gugu Mbatha Raw and Nate Parker together are effortlessly in sync. But because the movie has been saturated in Love and Basketball references, it takes away from the film’s individuality. There’s no need for a Venn diagram. It is up to the audience to separate the two fictional love stories.

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