Saturday, August 01, 2015

Tongue loose Attends The Bechdel Test Fest Screening Of Beyond The Lights

Saturday, August 01, 2015

How do you watch and write a review for a Oscar nominated film featuring Oscar nominated actors, written and directed by a Hollywood filmmaker ahead of its release? 
Easy, you'll attend a screening courtesy of the pr of the film which are keen to fill the seats with film critics of all calibre and have them walk away writing about their positive experience. Sadly, when it comes to Beyond The Lights - an Oscar nominated film featuring Oscar nominated actors written and directed by a Hollywood filmmaker there is no release to speak of. Instead we attended a brilliantly organised one off event screening the film followed by a panel featuring the film's writer and director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, the lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Simran Hans and Cecile Emike,  discussing the very reasons of a no show release in the UK. 

Discussions of these proportions have a tendency to overshadow a film which is a real shame as Beyond The Lights is actually a good one. It's about Noni (Mbatha-Raw) the daughter of a single mum (Minnie Driver) who is pressured into a pop career exchanging her amazing singing talent with overly sexual movements and barely there outfits. The Brixton mum and daughter duo make it to LA as Noni becomes a star before her first album has even been released. But the career and stardom aren't on her terms and she attempts to commit suicide one night, in comes squishy clean Kaz Nicole (Nate Parker) to save her life, and steal her heart. 

The film itself is an exploration of self discovery, a protagonist giving up on fighting for an ounce of freedom, and love - it touches on depression, suicide and the sexual overload in media but it is nonetheless a romantic film about love. Not a rom com, but certainly a comedy-filled romantic film. Why then is this well produced large scale film not receiving a distribution in the UK? Racism came up as a reason both from members of the panel and the audience. Two lead characters of colour would be too much for audiences, and it would have been favourable and not as offensive if the male lead were white courting the fatherless mixed race female - her only parent being a white woman played by Oscar nominated and British gem Minnie Driver. Noni could have swayed either way when it came to her sexual preference, and as she moves from a loveless relationship with a white male to one with a black man who is not only a sincere, decent, man of the law who sees her true personality but also literally saves her from the edge - colour matters. Suddenly the film becomes a black one and distributors shoot themselves in the foot thinking they have to target a film with true and realistic representation of people both in LA and in Brixton as an overcompensation to please a black audience. Beyond The Lights is a film for everyone who enjoys romantic films, and the love story in Beyond The Lights is as cliched and cringeworthy as any other popular love story, so why isn't it recognised as such? 

The Bechdel test fest focuses on feminist cinema, and covers films which pass the test - a rare feat even in 2015. Beyond The Lights passes the test, yet the focus is on race is almost stripping away Prince-Bythewood’s accomplishments disallowing her to be both a female filmmaker and a woman of colour and reducing her to a representation of black films which as Bechdel test fest founder Corrina Antrobus isn't even a genre. 

The truest tragedy is distributors failing to see the importance of London identity and neglect the heritage of the lead actress. Her background isn't black, it's British. It's London. It's Brixton. How can you refuse a release in a country so widely covered in the film and referred to as "home" both for mother and daughter? If distributors are too concerned with releasing the film because they worry the audience which can relate is a minority they have failed to consider the fact that any Brit and Londoner especially, will support a film with shots of double decker buses, chicken cottage and a mother and daughter showdown involving profanities such as "bloody" with a healthy dose of dry British humour and sarcasm. They should recognise the fact that had it not been for the casting of Gugu in the lead, the film would have remained solely American and no homages would have been paid to London, that detail alone should instil enough pride to release the film in the UK. 

Also, it has Danny glover in it. Come on! 

(Due to demand The Bechdel Test Fest have organised a second screening which will be held in central London on the 2nd of August. Tickets are available here

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