Separating Beyond the Lights from Love and Basketball

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.

Beyond The Lights Passes

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Beyond The Lights is the story of Noni Jean, a hot new award-winning artist who is primed for superstardom.  But not all is what it seems, and the pressures cause Noni to nearly fall apart – until she meets Kaz Nicol, a promising young cop and aspiring politician who’s been assigned to her detail.  Drawn to each other, Noni and Kaz fall fast and hard, despite the protests of those around them to put their career ambitions ahead of their romance.  But can Kaz’s love give Noni the courage to find her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be?

Find out for yourself on Wednesday, November 12th.  The Beyond the Lights screening is happening in the Waterfront at 7:30 PM.  For tickets, please comment below with your favorite music love story.  I’ll start with mine: Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998).  Dreamgirls (2006) has to be #2 though.

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen

Belle

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a mixed-race 18th century England aristocrat in the movie, Belle. The movie is based off the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of White Royal Navy officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and an African slave woman. Left in the care of her Uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), Belle was above the ranks of captured slaves, but still not able to join the company of her White relatives during public or formal events.

Belle’s uncle, who was also the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, was deliberating on the infamous Zong slave ship case (Gregson v. Gilbert), where about 140 enslaved Africans were thrown overboard and drowned by the crew of the slave ship. The case decided whether Zong slave ship owners were able to claim the loss with insurers. Lord Mansfield’s decision was a landmark judgment in the abolition of slavery in England.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is mixed herself with English and African, is undeniably beautiful. You cannot keep your eyes off of her. While her resume is petite, the formal training she received from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts attests her excellent acting skills in Belle.

You might remember Mbatha-Raw from her supporting role in Tom Hanks’ 2011 project Larry Crowne. I must admit that Belle is my first big screen experience with the 30-year-old actress, but I am truly impressed. She is radiant and notably one of the most beautiful woman in recent films.

Belle is powerful. There is no way someone can watch the movie and not be charged for change, convicted by the human mistreatment of the slave trade, and grateful for the slight progress accomplished since the 1700s. I truly commend British writer and director Amma Asante for this bold venture.

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Despite the seriousness of the film, Belle still has a fairy tale like piece; a woman with money, freedom and (partial) royal status is still in search of love. Belle is a sweet mixture of Color of Friendship (2000) and the Man in the Iron Mask (1998).

Solomon Northup and his 12 Years A Slave autobiographical narrative took 2013 by storm with its unique tale and cruel injustice. But I think we were so intrigued by his story because most of us were not familiar with his story. The same can be said for Dido Belle.

Of the many movies involving slavery, it is films like Belle and 12 Years A Slave that stick out like sore thumbs. Whereas others were ripped from their homes and forced into captivity, including Dido Belle’s mother, some like Solomon Northup and Dido Belle, were free but not fortunate enough to not endure the reality of racism and racial disparity.

Although their stories are centuries old, the Dido Belles and Solomon Northups of the world are still applicable and necessary even today. Both movies, which were previously introduced in smaller film circuits, are taking over the cinematic world by opening minds to untold, rare accounts.

4.5 Stars: Belle’s atypical story is no longer swept under the rug. The world, on a much larger scale, knows Dido Elizabeth Belle. She was remarkable, eminent, and a driving force to all women dealing with race related issues. Belle is in theatres on Friday, May 23rd (Pittsubrgh: Only showing at AMC Waterfront 22.)

Belle Painting
The 1779 painting of Dido Belle with her cousin Elizabeth

Belle Passes

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Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, Belle is left to wonder if she will every find love. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

MSQ will host a screening of Belle on Monday, May 19 at 7:30pm at the AMC Waterfront 22. For your chance at two tickets, please comment below with your favorite royalty movie. I’ll start with mine: Richie Rich (1994). Granted little Richie Rich didn’t sit on a throne or hold a title, but he did live in a huge castle. I think that counts for something! Black Knight (2001) comes in a close second place. The movie is hilarious and a different type of project for my favorite funny guy, Martin Lawrence.

This contest closes Friday, May 16th at 5:00 PM. Any comments posted after that time will not be considered. Thank you!

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen

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