Song of the Day #2,603: ‘Blackbird’ – Gugu Mbatha-Raw

DSC_1710.NEFI caught up with writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights on NetFlix a couple of months back and was thoroughly impressed. It’s the sort of adult drama that’s been pushed off of movie screens by reboots and superhero films in recent years.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a Marvel movie, but I don’t think film lovers should concede that all of the small, smart, character-driven stories now happen only on TV.

Prince-Bythewood is the auteur behind 2000’s excellent Love & Basketball, and Beyond the Lights is a similar take on romance under the spotlight of fame. This time the backdrop isn’t professional basketball but pop music.

The writer-director has made only one other film between her feature debut and this one — 2008’s adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees. Given the dearth of successful black and female directors (let alone black female directors), I’d love to see her work more often.

Beyond the Lights also stars my new celebrity girlfriend, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a very talented actress who had a great 2014 between this film and the similarly underrated Belle. She and Nate Parker (who looks like a young Denzel Washington and was directed by Washington in 2007’s The Great Debaters) have excellent chemistry, playing pop starlet Noni and a policeman named Kaz who interrupts her during a suicide attempt.

Both characters have complicated relationships with their parents — Noni’s mother (Minnie Driver) and Kaz’s father (Danny Glover) want to control their children in very different ways. Noni and Kaz’s blooming romance is threatened by the pressure of their parents as well as the relentless media.

I heartily recommend the film, which I believe is still streaming on NetFlix. Even if you don’t find the story and characters as compelling as I did, you get to look at Gugu Mbatha-Raw for two hours.

Here’s a clip of Noni singing Nina Simone’s ‘Blackbird’ during an escape to Mexico, and remembering a performance of the same song she gave as a little girl.

Why you wanna fly Blackbird
You ain’t ever gonna fly
Why you wanna fly Blackbird
You ain’t ever gonna fly

No place big enough for holding
All the tears you’re gonna cry
Cause your mama’s name was lonely
And your daddy’s name was pain
And he called you little sorrow
Cos you’ll never love again

Why you wanna fly Blackbird
You ain’t ever gonna fly
Why you wanna fly Blackbird
You ain’t ever gonna fly

You ain’t go no one to hold you
You ain’t got no one to care
If you’d only understand dear
Nobody wants you anywhere

So why you wanna fly Blackbird
You ain’t ever gonna fly
So why you wanna fly Blackbird
You ain’t ever gonna fly

You ain’t go no one to hold you
You ain’t got no one to care

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,603: ‘Blackbird’ – Gugu Mbatha-Raw

  1. Dana says:

    I know of Love and Basketball, but never heard of this one. See,s like one worth checking out.

  2. Andrea Katz says:

    I def will…she’s gorgeous and I love Nina Simone!

  3. Peg says:

    Definitely worth checking out; I loved her in Belle

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