noni

Overview: The demands from her label and mom-ager drive a young hip-hop star to attempt suicide before she eventually discovers her voice and herself. Relativity Media; 2014; Rated PG-13; 116 minutes.

Over-sexualized, Manipulated and Silenced: Initially, Beyond the Lights appeared to represent two predictable story arcs:

  1. The Bodyguard template
  2. The overused and tired tragedy of a starlet

Director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, quickly corrects preconceived notions, exceeds expectations, and absolutely wows. If you have seen any bio-pic about artists and the music industry, you’ll find no surprise in this movie’s presentation of the mainstream music scene as a game, a cut-throat, deceitful game. Prince-Bythewood creates a cohesive image of the faulty characteristics plaguing major record labels. From PR stunts to cover-ups through bribery to non-transparent contacts. Perhaps the strongest and most important point presented by Beyond the Lights is the over-sexualization of women in today’s culture. The problem is not the degree of sex appeal, but who is communicating the message. What fans and viewers are consuming is a woman’s sexual prowess puppeteered at the hands of another, a man. I have mentioned only a few core matters. However, Prince-Bythewood is strategic in her approach to hit all of these points without being cumbersome in 116 minutes. The issues are highly interconnected and beg repeat viewings.

Noni Jean and Kaz Nicol: Future music star Noni, GuGu Mbatha-Raw, and Officer Nicol, Nate Parker, compliment each other–not in the manner of being perfect for one another. No, they maintain the spirit of their character without creating a stale, cookie-cutter relationship. The relationship itself is central to the movie, however, it is not suffocating nor does it retract from Noni’s progress to be the singer she imagined herself to be. I applaud Prince-Bythewood’s writing abilities, for “predictable” is one word that can not be used to describe this movie. . Not only is the overall development of the entire structure compelling, the personalities of the characters support the conflicting tone that echoes throughout the movie.

Bring Back the Soul: I cannot help but wonder at Prince-Bythewood’s thoughts on the music productions of today. She appears to tastefully mock the shallowness of chart-topping hits and indirectly challenges the current state of music. It’s an open-ended question, to solicit a hunt for an artist that can express emotion through both lyrics and vocals; an art that has decayed for the sake of an image that is the most marketable to the masses. Therein lies a misdirected focus, on appearance as opposed to pure vocal talent.

Final Thoughts: Powerful and real; Beyond the Lights evokes questions about the poison industry behind the music while imploring us to remember our own voice.

Grade: A