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Who can quote every line from “Love Jones?” Raise your hand with me. How about “Love & Basketball?” Hand still raised?

These films resonate so deeply within our collective and individual movie psyches perhaps because there is something innately powerful about seeing the love of a black couple play out onscreen, in all of its complicated, nuanced glory. Now raise your hand if you’ve been wondering in the time since “Love & Basketball”…what happened? Where did all of our love stories go? Not the staid, watered down, stereotype-ridden ones where we can’t even begin to see ourselves reflected onscreen, but the ones with all of that delicious complexity and well…realness.

Well this fall, get ready for a breath of fresh air. Mark November 14th on your calendars to go see “Beyond the Lights” starring the brilliant Gugu Mbatha-Raw and magnetic Nate Parker; written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), which opened at The Urbanworld Film Festival last week.

In “Beyond The Lights,” Mbatha-Raw flawlessly plays the white-hot, new diva-of-the-moment (think RiRi, Beyonce, etc. And you TOTALLY believe her as such) Noni Jean, whose fame is constricting the songstress she actually longs to be. The unrelenting pressure ultimately brings her to an almost-tragic boiling point when she meets the fast-career-tracked police officer soon-to-be politician, Kaz, played at perfect pitch by Parker, who saves her life literally and figuratively (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything for you…it’s in the trailer).

They fall head first in love with one another, to both of their parents dismay (played superbly by Minnie Driver and Danny Glover) who are concerned that they will both ruin each others careers. But of course, love is a funny thing and when it grabs you like it grabs Kaz and Noni, we all strap in for the ride, which is anything but cliché.

Their relationship is full of unexpected turns that breathe both authenticity and that swept-away feeling simultaneously…a hard balance to strike, but made effortless in the hands of Prince-Bythewood. The power in even the most intimate of moments (I’ll say one word: Hair. You’ll get it when you see it) will cause goosebumps before you even realize they’re forming. And here’s the kicker that really made me start spouting “It’s an instant classic!” immediately: not only is it a love story about falling in love with another person, it’s also about falling in love with yourself…a message desperately needed in society right now.

In the tried and true style of Prince-Bythewood, she gives us genuine characters who are as flawed as they are lovable, making this the kind of romantic drama that your boyfriend/husband/boo-thang will definitely be able to get down with. He might even love it, because contrary to how the media likes to portray African-American men, there are plenty of our brothers out there who are longing to see nuanced depictions of themselves on screen loving a black woman truly and deeply with that love returned. Who are starving to see their images not be vilified, for once. For the many of us whom “Love Jones” is a favorite movies; “Beyond The Lights” will surely join that canon, with music as the driving force as poetry was for the former. By the way…the music in the film is nothing short of “Yaaaaaaaaaas!”-worthy.

Beyond the Lights. NOVEMBER 14th. GO SEE IT. On Opening Weekend. SERIOUSLY.

–Toccarra Cash
Actor, Writer/Blogger, Public Speaker
Blog: The Image Monster – http://www.theimagemonster.blogspot.com

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