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Beyond the Lights is a 2014 romantic drama directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood starring Gugu Mbatha Raw, Minnie Driver and Nate Parker.

The story begins with Noni Jean (Mbatha-Raw), a rising British R&B-pop sensation, depressed and struggling to cope with the pressures of fame. Unable to bear it any longer, she attempts to commit suicide by jumping off her balcony. She is saved by her bodyguard for the night, Officer Kaz Nicol (Parker), and the two quickly begin to fall for each other. The film follows their budding relationship in the few weeks before Noni's debut album is released.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Macy Jean is never truly physically abusive towards Noni (she crosses the line a bit at one point by slapping her daughter in anger during an argument) and she isn't trying to be emotionally abusive towards her, but her Stage Mom attitude is one of the things that drove Noni into depression. See Driven to Suicide below.
  • All Abusers Are Male: Played with. Macy's micromanaging of Noni's life is portrayed as a form of abuse. That being said, in Kaz's B-Plotline, he saves a woman from her physically abusive husband.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Inverted. Noni wants straight-laced cop Kaz. Kaz, the potential congressman, in turn wants super sexual, R&B star Noni (though as he quickly discovers, that's not who she TRULY is).
  • Ambition Is Evil: Played with. Having dreams and goals aren't bad; forcing your dreams on others or using others to fulfill your own unfulfilled dreams (looking at you, Macy Jean!) on the other hand is.
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  • Bare Your Midriff Virtually all of Noni's outfits in the first half of the movie do this- Much to her chagrin.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Two examples. First, Kaz tucks an exhausted Noni into bed upon arrival in Mexico. He then spends a few moments watching over her (and lovingly stroking her, aww!). The second instance is pretty much the reverse: Noni wakes up (again in Mexico) in the middle of the night and takes the opportunity to tenderly explore the tattoo on Kaz's back. In a bit of a zig-zag, it turns out that Kaz is actually awake (though Noni never realizes it)- and clearly enjoying his girlfriend's affections!
  • The Big Damn Kiss: The final scene.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Subverted. There's drama surrounding Noni and Kid Culprit, but it's not because they're an interracial couple.
  • Body Guard Crush: Briefly. Kaz is actually just substituting for someone else the night Noni decides to jump off her balcony.
  • Book-Ends: The film starts with Noni singing "Blackbird" by Nina Simone at a local talent competition and winning massive appeal from the audience but disappointment from her mother when she places second. The film ends with Noni debuting a song she has written titled "Blackbird" at a concert in London while her mother listens wistfully via a cellphone in America.
  • Break the Cutie: Noni comes conveniently pre-broken. She picks up the pieces of herself throughout the film.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Even when Kaz is mad at and doesn't want to talk to Noni, he refuses to start driving until she buckles up her seat belt.
  • Call-Back: the talent contest scene from Noni's childhood gets several. When she sings "Blackbird" during karaoke, the sound of her child self singing the song echoes along with her performance. And in the final scene where she sings the song she wrote, her hairstyle is identical to the one she had for the talent contest (and was even done by the same person).
  • Calling the Old Woman Out: Noni does this to Macy when Macy reveals that she only brought up Noni getting to write a song as a bargaining chip to get Liam fired, not because she actually cares about Noni's desire to take control of her own image.
    • In other words, Noni gives her mother a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Seeing as how Macy slaps Noni in anger (while yelling at her to "never doubt my love for you!"- talk about mixed messages!), it's super-effective.
  • The Cameo: Big Sean has a few lines in this and Janelle Monáe can be seen walking the red carpet at the BET Awards. Also, CNN anchor Don Lemon plays himself.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The entire music industry to be exact as they force Noni into a hyper-sexualized version of herself that Noni hates.
  • Crapsaccharine World: As he begins to develop a relationship with Noni, Kaz sees that behind the glam and glitz, the music industry is all about shamelessly selling a product to get the most profit.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The BET performance.note  The sexual-assault imagery is so overt that By-the-Book Cop Kaz winds up punching Kid Culprit on stage on national television.
  • Domestic Abuse: What Kaz deals with on the job. He tries to help an abused wife but she turns him away, stating that she just wanted her husband to stop hitting her. Kaz comes back again when she calls him in a panic. It's a set-up.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Noni blindfolds Kaz, puts headphones on him, brings him on her private jet (he's never been on a plane before because he's afraid of flying more or less) and climbs onto his lap. Kaz quite understandably freaks out the second the plane begins to take off, which leads to Noni kissing him a few times in an attempt to calm him. He finally relaxes once Noni "starts going". The whole situation is played off as romantic and it technically isn't supposed to feel rapey, but if you switched the genders, the rape undertones are far more apparent.
  • Downer Beginning: The movie starts off with young Noni proudly getting 2nd place in a talent competition...and then her mother forcing her to throw out the trophy because second place isn't good enough for her (AFTER hugging her and telling her she was proud of her prior to the judges delivering their verdict, no less- ouch!), crushing Noni's excitement and joy.
  • Driven to Suicide: The jumping point of the film. More specifically, the pressures from Noni's mom and the sexualized image thrust upon her by the record label make Noni feel like she has no say or control over her own life. In her words, she feels like she's suffocating to the point that she didn't see any part of herself worth saving.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Kaz's actual first name is Kazam. His parents thought it "sounded African".
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Kaz again. After he saves Noni, the media dubs him "Officer Hero", which his fellow policemen use to affectionately tease him. And Noni has a blush-worthy moniker of her own for her rescuer- his extreme distaste for lying leads her to christen him "boy scout".
  • Establishing Character Moment: When Macy drags young Noni off-stage after Noni wins second place and forces Noni to throw out her second place trophy.
    • The adult Noni does not speak a word until after returning to her hotel from the Billboard Awards, at which point she gives Kaz instructions not to let anyone follow her into her room- showing how she essentially has lost her voice and become a puppet to her mother and record label.
    • The camera makes sure to give us a good look at Kaz's house on our first visit there, revealing inspirational quotes tacked up all over the place and TONS of books, most of which are justice-themed and/or about/by powerful black figures such as President Obama, among other things.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Noni, while in Mexico with Kaz, removes her sew-in straight weave to reveal her naturally curly hair, indicating her finally truly shedding her constructed image. Kaz kisses her and then kisses her hair.
  • Expy: Noni as a Rihanna expy: light-skinned, black, pop-R&B singer with a foreign accent and a hyper-sexualixed bad girl image who deals with traumatizing and very public problems: for Noni, depression and a suicide attempt, for Rihanna, an abusive relationship.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Kid Culprit at first seems to be accepting of his and Noni's break up and then the BET Awards performance happens...
  • Fair Cop: Kaz, by leagues.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Noni fantasizes about Kaz kissing her.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Noni and Kaz have LOTS of fun together.
  • Good-Times Montage: Noni and Kaz are shown happily frolicking in Mexico (in more ways than one!).
  • Held Gaze: Gina Prince-Bythewood is the QUEEN of this. Special shout out to the one after Kaz saves Noni.
  • It's All About Me: While it is clear by the end of the film that Macy truly loves Noni, she prioritizes her own desires for Noni over what Noni actually wants, and is more than willing to allow the record label to hyper-sexualize Noni as long as it means Noni gets famous and Macy is able to rise above the low-expectations everyone had of her growing up. Noni even calls her out on it point blank: "It was never about me, it was always about you."
  • Jerkass: KID. CULPRIT.
  • Kick the Dog: When Noni goes to see Kaz after they come back from Mexico and break up she asks him hopefully to confirm that regardless of what followed, their relationsip was perfect when it was good. His response? "We started out on a lie. It was never going to be perfect." Ouch.
  • Lighter and Softer: Played straight and played with. Noni ultimately sheds her hyper-sexual, bad girl image in favor of a more natural one that is closer to who she actually is. The content of her music however shifts from focusing on sex and partying (industry standard) to discussing her coming to terms and dealing with her depression.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Macy Jean and Captain Nicol (Kaz's father) both try to discourage their children from getting involved with one another, since doing so would (at least in their minds!) derail their respective careers. Captain Nicol ultimately has a change of heart and comes to respect and support his son's choices. Macy? Not so much.
  • Missing Parents: Noni's father left Macy while she was pregnant with her and Kaz's mother is never mentioned.
  • Mile-High Club: After tons of flirting, Noni and Kaz finally have sex together on the former's private jet.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Noni and Kaz are watching TV in bed (with the former rather adorably lying on top of the latter) in their motel room in Mexico when there's a knock at the door. Thinking it's just the maid, Noni jumps up, grabs the sheet to cover herself (she and Kaz apparently had a little fun before turning on the tube) and goes to answer it. To her horror, she ends up opening the door to her mother and a gaggle of paparazzi.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Count the number of times Kaz appears shirtless.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The record label has made this Noni's entire image.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Kaz is perturbed and somewhat repulsed by Noni's hypersexual image and song lyrics. And Kid Culprit calling Noni a freak is the last straw for Kaz, who knocks his lights out.
  • The Musical: An interesting version since the songs aren't embedded in the plot and the plot isn't driven by musical numbers. Yet, the songs Noni performs and sings indicate much of her current emotional and mental state and are significant to the story.
  • Nipple and Dimed: Most of Noni's outfits in the first half of the movie are designed to leave VERY little to the imagination- including her breasts. However, her nipples are always carefully kept out of sight, covered by everything from chains to her own strategically placed arm.
  • No Holds Barred Beat Down: Kaz gives one to the abusive husband of a woman in the neighborhood after she calls him to protect her and the husband tries to shoot him.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The majority of the film takes place in LA but Mbatha-Raw and Driver, as native Britons, don't change or hide their accent and the plot is shaped in part around their accents.
  • Oh, Crap!: Noni's reaction when she opens the door to the bungalow in Mexico and is greeted by a flock of paparazzi and her mother.
    • Kaz (who is afraid of flying and has never been on a plane) does this HILARIOUSLY when he realizes that Noni has brought him on her private jet (she took the liberty of putting a blindfold and headphones on him first so he wouldn't know where she was taking him) and it's TAKING OFF. Fortunately, Noni is not phased by his freak-out and knows EXACTLY how to calm him down.
  • One Head Taller: At just 5'4", Noni is significantly shorter than both of her love interests. Kaz, at 5'9", is five inches taller, while the 6'4" Kid Culprit dwarfs her by an ENTIRE FOOT.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In-Universe. Before she decides to take her life, non-drinker Noni downs an entire bottle of champagne on the car ride back to her hotel.
  • Parental Substitute: Noni's hairdresser in some respects. She's the first person to ever actually properly comb out Noni's hair (her mother, being white, doesn't understand how to properly take care of her biracial daughter's hair). She also proudly watches Noni sing for the first time and it is to her young Noni looks to before she begins. She shows up later in the movie however to remind Noni that despite Macy's blind ambition and self-interest, Macy does actually love Noni.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Kind of. Noni breaks framed posters of herself when depressed. Fortunately, Kaz is there for her.
  • Reluctant Fan Service Girl: Considering the hyper-sexualized image forced upon Noni by her record label (not to mention her mother's micromanaging of her life and career!) leaves her feeling like she is "suffocating" to the point of ATTEMPTING SUICIDE... Yeah, "reluctant" might be a bit of an understatement!
  • Rescue Romance: Kaz saves Noni from ending her life and they begin to fall for each other.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Most of Noni's outfits in the beginning feature chains or some form of bondage to depict how she feels caged within herself due to her mother's and the record label's expectations and control over her life. She wears looser clothing as she begins to heal.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Kaz, when Noni decides to go back with her mother and continue to release her album. He thinks and is initially correct that nothing has changed and it will only be a matter of time before Noni is back to where she once was.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Macy makes it crystal clear that this is her philosophy after ten-year-old Noni ends up as the first runner-up in a talent contest.
  • Sex Is Good: While hyper-sexualization and objectification is condemned, sex in general is seen as a good thing as Kaz and Noni engage in a lot of it.
  • Sex Sells: Noni's entire image as a singer is constructed off of this in the beginning. You can watch her and Kid Culprit's video for their song "Masterpiece" here.
  • Shirtless Scene: Kaz has several- including a rather aww-inducing one where he uses the shed shirt (a clean white one, it should be noted) to clean the blood off Noni's hand after she injures it by smashing covered posters of herself during a breakdown. See Mr. Fanservice above.
  • Shout-Out: The plot is highly reminiscent of the movie The Bodyguard.
  • Stage Mom: Deconstructed. Macy Jean's micromanagement of Noni's life and self-centered focus on fulfilling her own dreams through Noni is part of the reason why Noni attempts suicide.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Macy was 17 when she was pregnant with Noni.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Kid Culprit was insensitive before the break-up (trying to sext Noni right after she has a failed suicide attempt), but he becomes a full-on douchebag after it.
  • Triang Relations: Briefly a type 7, but Noni quickly ends things with Kid Culprit once things between her and Kaz start to get serious.
  • Troubled, but Cute: NONI.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Kaz's story line involves winning the favor of local pastors so he can win a local election and him on the job helping a woman in an abusive relationship. It mainly serves to show how Kaz is a much milder version of Noni: his future is planned out for him but it may not be what he wanted.
  • The Vamp: Kaz's father warns him not to get involved with Noni because she "ain't First Lady material".
  • Wrong Guy First: Two words: Kid Culprit.
  • You Are Not Alone: "I see you!" Yeah. Kaz pretty much spends the ENTIRE MOVIE proving this to Noni in SPADES.
  • Your Cheating Heart: At the disastrous BET Awards performance, Kid Culprit VERY unapologetically reveals (ON NATIONAL TV, no less!) that he has been cheating on Noni. Not only that, but he makes it seem as though it was somehow HER fault and claims that HE was the one who ended things between them- when in fact it was the other way around. Things only get worse from there.
    • Technically Noni is guilty of this as well, albeit to a much lesser degree.
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