Some Thoughts on "Beyond the Lights"

I find the way people use the word “nerd” really interesting. Usually, people are talking about people who like comic books, sci-fi/fantasy, gadgets, and have tastes the larger society doesn’t share. Considering comic book movies and movies like Lord of the Rings are consistently the top moneymakers at the box office, I have to wonder how much of an outlier people who love them really are.

Anyway, my definition of “nerd” is a little broader. I think of a nerd as someone who has a really intense interest in something, whatever it is, and basically becomes an expert at it. I consider myself to be a sports nerd. I’m also a pop culture nerd. I find the machinations of the entertainment industry endlessly fascinating. Why do certain TV shows, musicians, songs, etc. hit big with the public? How does that happen and what does the success of that TV show, musician, song say about us as a society? See, told you. Total nerd here.   

I have a point. I promise. When I get super-excited about something, whether that’s a TV show, author, movie, musical artist, whatever I basically become so nerdy about it. My latest obsession is Beyond the Lights.

All I will say is that I’ve seen the movie more than once (and I never go to the movies). I was excited about this movie because it starred a black couple (which is all too rare in Hollywood), it was a romance (Hello! Romance author here!), and it explored the music industry (Hello! Pop culture nerd here!). It also had mostly positive reviews.

However, I was disappointed Sunday to learn that it only made $6.5 million at the box office in its opening weekend. No bueno.  

Anyway, yesterday, I did a Google search for “Beyond the Lights.” To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember why exactly other than my general need to know everything about the movie. I ran across a few articles exploring why the movie didn’t do well. Some of the reasons included the lack of star power, the movie opened at the wrong time of year, and the lack of publicity. I’m sure those are all valid points. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers.  

Anyway, after reading the articles, I committed a cardinal sin and read the comments. And man, did I get an education. Some people said they didn’t see it because it was a ripoff of The Bodyguard. Except it’s not. Kaz, the male lead, isn’t protecting Noni from a crazed fan. He’s her boyfriend.*

Another complaint? People assumed it was a “typical, cheesy love story.” I admit, as a romance writer, this assertion made me grind my teeth. Let’s think about this for a second. Of all the movies Hollywood produces on annual basis, how many of them are truly centered on the love story? Very, very few. More importantly, I would like to point out that it’s hella hard to write a script that mainly relies on characters rather than explosions or crass humor or mutilated bodies and still manages to be compelling. I always find it weird that people look down on romance even though they date and fall in love. So it’s okay in your personal life, but not in a movie or book? Okay.

But the complaint that really hurt my heart centered on race. And not because the actors were black and not white, but rather that they weren’t black enough. Or at least Gugu wasn’t. Some commenters said they didn’t want to see a(nother) lightskinned/biracial woman falling in love with a dark-skinned man. This reaction surprised me because that’s not how I look at things. Even though Gugu is half-black, she’s not any lighter skinned than my 100% black cousin. Gugu is black to me. I’ll claim you as long as you want to be claimed. And Gugu does want to be claimed. I’ve watched and read her interviews (because I’m a nerd). As black people, we face so much adversity. Do we really need to do it to ourselves by deciding who is and who isn’t black enough?

Would I like to see more movies starring darker-skinned black women? Yes. I’m sure dark-skinned actresses would like that, too, but I don’t see the point in automatically dismissing a movie because it doesn’t.

In any case, being biracial added another layer to Noni’s conflict with her white mom. Would the story still have been good without it? Sure, but the conflict was a realistic touch that enriched the movie.    

What makes the skin tone line of thinking even more interesting is that I watched an interview (nerd alert!) with the writer, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who said studios wanted her to make Kaz white.  Maybe that would have made the naysayers happy because I have to assume they’d okay with a half-black woman falling in love with a white man since black men are off-limits.     

I’m not saying that everyone should want to see Beyond the Lights. Every movie ain’t for everybody. I don’t watch horror movies and I certainly am not the intended audience for Dumb and Dumber. I get that some people do need the explosions or flying elves to enjoy a movie. And that’s okay. Some people love intense, nonstop action, and you’re not going to find that in Beyond the Lights.  

I just wish more people would have given it a chance. I guess that’s my point with this post. It’s a really good movie.

And I’ll go watch it again. You should, too. :)



*There is a scene where Kaz “protects” Noni for a day, but that came about because she wanted to hang out with him, not because she was in any danger.