*This article was originally published on Urban Cusp.
When I saw the trailer for Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest film, Beyond the Lights, I knew that it would be of good quality, but had no idea that it would be as gripping and socially relevant as it was. On the surface, Beyond the Lights seems inconspicuous in comparison to recent films like Dear White People and Belle, but after watching the film, it is clear that this film is just as important.
In recent years, our generation has seen a series of movies that critique American culture, but no other film has captured the space we’re living in as succinctly as this one. The main difference between Beyond the Lights and other “message films” such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Fruitvale Station, is that the latter contain calls to action that require nothing less than a mass movement. After watching a movie that addresses totalitarian rule and institutional racism, for example, audiences generally don’t feel that there is anything they can do other than mourn the state of humanity and write compelling reviews on Facebook.
But unlike many social issue films, Beyond the Lights mastered the art of tackling a macro issue on a micro scale. It boldly addressed the hypersexualization of female entertainers, the superficiality that governs the music industry, and the stigma surrounding mental illness, by way of a love story. After the credits rolled, I was compelled to change nothing more than myself, and that’s what made it so powerful.
I’m of the belief that the revolution we’ve all been waiting for must begin within. It is virtually impossible to change an industry, nation, or the world, without first inspiring and inducing change on a personal level. The type of reform that the music industry needs will not come from external pressures. Rather, the change we’ve been seeking will occur only after artists and executives alike have underwent the slow and internal processes that occurred within this film.
In a span of two hours, we saw Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) go from Rihanna to Lianne La Havas. And though her character arc may seem extreme, the story prompts us to ask why such a transformation seems so unreasonable. For instance, how would we respond if Nicki Minaj released an album synonymous to the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill? Would we be able to handle it if Big Sean decided to go Nas on us?
The brilliance of Beyond the Lights lies in its ability to fuse fiction with reality. You can’t watch this film without coming to your own conclusion about the state of popular music and culture, and that’s what makes it a must-see. It’s difficult to say whom this film is for because, in essence, it’s for everyone. Young women of color, in particular, can benefit from the self-celebratory and redemptive themes prevalent throughout the script. Young men can learn a thing or two about how to love and restore broken women. Lastly, the film provides everyone, especially those working in the entertainment industry, with an example of what it looks like to be true to one’s self, a quality that our society desperatly needs.
At its core, Beyond the Lights is about the complexities of family life, the desolate state of our music industry, and the healing power of love. But not only does it critique and condemn celebrity culture, it encourages us to rise above it. For everyone in search of a satisfying, entertaining, and culturally connected love story, I highly recommend that you see this film. It just might change your life.