Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 3rd feature length, Beyond the Lights is a refreshing romance with a harsh and realistic bite at the music industry. Gugu Mbatha-Raw heads the flick as Noni, the world’s biggest R&B star of the moment who realises the pressure is all too much during a cry for help when she hangs off a balcony after an awards ceremony. Cue the guy- Kaz, a police officer who pulls her from the balcony and acts as her bodyguard for the coming months. As most romance movies go, the pair form a deep connection and Noni is faced with the challenge of confronting the music industry and her mother that are constantly treating her like an object and a product to be sold, despite Noni’s immense talent.
Whilst still retaining the happy-sad balance of a romance movie, Prince-Bythewood manages to throw in some interesting comment on the music industry and the treatment of women within it. Noni is seen in a few photoshoots and award ceremony situations, scantily clad at the hands of her mother and record labels wishes, not because she personally finds it empowering. During one scene, her mother even makes her go topless for a photoshoot because she knows how much press it will receive, we see Noni’s desperate look to her mother to ask them to stop the shoot but still, her body is made up and sold and it becomes more about her image and raw talent. The sexualisation of women’s bodies, particularly black bodies, couldn’t be more of an issue right now with Nicki Minaj’s recently erected Madame Tussauds wax figure having to be taken down because of inappropriate photos being taken. It’s this underlying tone that for me, makes Beyond the Lights much more important than your standard Hollywood romance feature.
Prince-Bythewood chops and changes between these sweeping flashy stage shows and interviews to intimate moments where we see the real Noni, the Noni she wants to be underneath the weave and chains. It’s these contrasting differences that humanise the film and make it so much more than a grand statement about fame and excess. With a stunning chemistry between Gugu and Nate Parker, it’s difficult not to be lured in by their sweeping gestures of love. It’s from Kaz’s help and support that Noni can ditch the R&B image, and her on-stage off-stage partner Machine Gun Kelly and release her own music that has more soul and passion than anything her label can come up with.
Ultimately, romance movies are about entertainment and feeling a stupid soft spot in the pit of your stomach and it’s clear that Beyond the Lights delivers, this film’s got all the elements to make it a wide-release hit, a stunning lead couple, some catchy-if-a-little-cringey tunes, a good bit of social commentary for good measure and an outlandish dream-like love story. The fact that I, and I assume many others, never got to see it in theatres is only a testament to the discrimination women film-makers, and specifically black women directors face.
By Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is 19 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller & Dane DeHaan a whole lot. Her favourite films are The Beach, Lords of Dogtown and Into the Wild. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants @kawaiigoff.