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Film / Beyond the Lights

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"You still can't see me."

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

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 and her domineering Stage Mom (Driver). 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.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Macy Jean is not, for the most part, physically abusive towards Noni 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.
  • 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).
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: Kaz's mother is never seen nor mentioned.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Played with. Having dreams and goals is fine, even admirable. Forcing those dreams on others or using others to fulfill your own unfulfilled dreams, however, is not ok.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Grateful" by Rita Ora playing over the film's end credits.
  • 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. 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.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: The final scene, where Kaz and Noni kiss on stage at her first performance as her authentic self.
  • 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.
  • Bookends: 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 Man 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, it's super-effective.
  • The Cameo: Several real musicians make appearances in the film, including Big Sean (who 's seen chatting up Noni between their BET Awards rehearsals), Janelle Monáe (who can be seen walking the red carpet at the BET Awards) and Chaka Khan (who compliments Noni's purple weave at the Billboard Awards). A few news anchors play themselves as well, including CNN's Don Lemon and CBS's Gayle King. Even some of the film crew- such as producer A'Mare Stoudemire and Choreographer Laurieann Gibson- make appearances.
  • 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.
  • Disappeared Dad: Noni's father left the then-teenage Macy while she was pregnant with her (per Macy, he "didn't give a shit" about her).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The BET performance. The entire performance was already primed to be extremely sexual with Noni and Kid Culprit simulating sex on a bed on stage. But it begins to cross the line into dangerous territory when Noni, trying to shed off some of her sexual image, refuses to strip on-stage as was choreographed and maneuvers herself out from underneath Kid Culprit on the bed. He in turn furiously pushes her down several times and attempts to disrobe her, much to hers and to some of the audience's shock. Continuing the performance, Noni slides down Kid Culprit's legs, only to have him hold her head down near his crotch, refusing to let her up even when she tries to get up several times. The performance ends with Noni publicly humiliated. 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.
    • One could argue that Kid Culprit's treatment of Noni at the BET Awards is a form of this as well, seeing as how they were in a semi-romantic relationship until just prior to the show.
  • 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 but the lack of consent from Kaz is obvious.
  • 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, 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. Kaz saves her, thus launching the plot of the film. He did try to talk her down first, though.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Noni drinks an entire bottle of champagne before going to her hotel balcony to attempt suicide. Overlaps with O.O.C. Is Serious Business since Noni normally completely abstains from alcohol.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Kaz's actual first name is Kazaam. 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.
    • Noni also likes to call him "boy scout" for his by the book ways.
  • 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 is both a cop and Mr. Fanservice for the entire film.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Noni fantasizes about Kaz kissing her.
  • Following in Relative's Footsteps: Kaz joined the LAPD, where his father is a captain. It appears this was part of his plan for Kaz's life.
  • Godiva Hair: In-Universe. Near the beginning of the movie, we see a cover of Vibe Magazine featuring Noni and Kid Culprit- with the former's bare chest covered only by her strategically placed weave.
  • Good-Times Montage: A brief one when Noni and Kaz go to Mexico for a break.
  • Held Gaze: Gina Prince-Bythewood's signature. A special shout out to the one after Kaz saves Noni from committing suicide.
  • It's All About Me: While it is clear by the end of the film that Macy cares for Noni, she prioritizes her own desires for Noni over what Noni actually wants, and is more than willing to allow the record label to hypersexualize 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, who proves himself to be petty and cruel, opting to publicly humiliate Noni during their performance at the BET Awards, after she rejects him and tries to reform her image a bit. See Does This Remind You of Anything?.
  • 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 relationship was perfect when it was good. His response? "We started out on a lie. It was never going to be perfect." Ouch.
    • Noni actually has this happen to her twice in the film: the first time was at the very beginning, when her ten-year-old self proudly and happily won second place in a talent competition-only for her mother to make her chuck her trophy because Second Place Is for Losers.
  • Left the Background Music On: As Noni guides a blindfolded and headphone wearing Kaz onto her private jet (to help him get over his fear of flying), Beyonce's "Drunk in Love" is playing in the background. Once the plane begins taking off, Noni removes Kaz's headphones to reveal to him what's going on and it becomes clear that the song was, in fact, playing through the headphones.
  • Lighter and Softer: 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 with and tackling 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.
  • Mile-High Club: After tons of flirting, Noni and Kaz finally have sex together on the former's private jet.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Post-coital, Noni and Kaz are watching TV in bed 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 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, to her dismay.
  • 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. However, her nipples are always carefully kept out of sight, covered by everything from chains to an arm bra.
  • 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.
  • 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 when he realizes that Noni has brought him (blindfolded and unaware) on her private jet, despite knowing his fear of flying. Noni however calms 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.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Kaz's full name is Kasaam, which he's a bit embarrassed about, only saying it once (while no one else uses this).
  • Open the Door and See All the People: After spending a weekend off the grid together Noni opens the door to the cabana she and Kaz are staying at only to be met with a crowd of paparazzi who want to know just who Kaz is and the nature of their relationship.
  • 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.
  • Rags to Riches: Noni grew up poor in Brixton, London (an impoverished area), raised by her single mother. She wound up rich and owns a huge mansion in LA after becoming a music star.
  • Rejecting the Consolation Prize: The beginning has a ten-year-old Noni competing in a talent contest, wowing the judges and only getting second place. Macy then angrily takes her off stage after she receives her trophy then orders her to throw it on the ground, destroying it, giving her the lesson that second place is not acceptable.
  • Reluctant Fan Service Girl: The hyper-sexualized image forced upon Noni by her record label on top of her mother's micromanaging of her life and career leaves her feeling like she is "suffocating" to the point of attempting suicide. "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.
  • Right Through His Pants: There is no clothing removal whatsoever when Noni (who wears a miniskirt to facilitate things) inducts Kaz into the Mile-High Club.
  • 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 forced hyper-sexualization and objectification is condemned, sex and being sexual in general is treated as a good thing as Kaz and Noni engage in a lot of it once they make their feelings for each other known.
  • 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.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Noni wears a black dress with a sizable cut-out in the back during her performance of her version of Blackbird at the end of the film.
  • Shirtless Scene: Kaz has several-including one where he removes his crisp white shirt to clean the blood off Noni's hand after she injures it 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.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Kaz tries to talk Noni down when he sees she's near the balcony's edge. It doesn't work, and he has to grab her when she jumps.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Macy was seventeen when she had 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.
  • Toplessness from the Back:
    • During the Mexico montage, Kaz removes Noni's top, after which they are briefly seen romantically embracing with Noni's bare back facing the camera. note 
    • When Noni poses topless for a magazine photo shoot, the audience only sees her bare back from the back.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Noni. The movie starts off by revealing just how troubled she is with her suicide attempt and as she sheds her oversexed image, reveals a fairly sweet and cute woman.
  • Two First Names: Noni and Macy Jean.
  • 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".
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Part of the reason why Macy micromanages Noni's life to the point of Noni wanting to kill herself is to make up for her impoverished upbringing. Noni calls out Macy's ambition, stating that none of this was ever really about Noni, but more for Macy to feel like she's finally made something of herself through Noni.
  • Wrong Guy First: Kid Culprit, who reveals himself to be a Jerkass of the highest magnitude after Noni dumps him and begins to resist her oversexed image.
  • You Are Not Alone: Kaz pretty much spends the entire movie proving this to Noni who is emotionally isolated from those around her due to the constant repression of her true self.
    Kaz: "I see you!"
  • You Must Be Cold: During their first date, Kaz offers Noni his suit jacket for both warmth and as a way to preserve her modesty as she is wearing a revealing dress.


Video Example(s):


Noni's True Hair

In a truly expository scene that includes no words, Noni takes out her dyed weave and shows her true hair.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / ExpositoryHairstyleChange

Media sources: