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5 Cool Facts You Didn’t Know About “Beyond The Lights”

Ashley Velez |
November 7, 2014 | 3:13 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

"Beyond the Lights," starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker hits theaters nationwide on November 12.
"Beyond the Lights," starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker hits theaters nationwide on November 12.
What do Rihanna, Big Sean, and Beyonce have in common? Aside from their musical talents, they were each considered for major roles in the upcoming drama, “Beyond the Lights.” 

Noni is the world’s latest musical obsession but sex, fame, and money have left her without an identity to call her own, until Kaz, a police officer, helps her find what is left to hold on to ‘Beyond the Lights.” Gina Prince-Bythewood, writer and director of “Love & Basketball” and “The Secret Life of Bees” stopped by USC on Monday for an advance screening of "Beyond The Lights," where she dished secrets about her upcoming film. There is definitely more to this film than meets the eye.

1. Alicia Keys, Beyonce, or Rihanna could have been Noni.

Prince-Bythewood developed a strong connection with Alicia Keys on the set of “The Secret Life of Bees” and she thought Keys would be the perfect fit for Noni before the singer got pregnant. Studios searched for stars like Beyonce and Rihanna to fill the part until Gugu Mbatha-Raw came in for a reading. Prince-Bythewood loved her craft and vulnerability and fought to show major financial supporters like BET that Mbatha-Raw is a star before landing a deal with Relativity Media. 

2. Kid Culprit was originally written as a black character.

The critically acclaimed director thought that she would cast Big Sean as Noni’s rapping, bad-boy, love interest until she came across Machine Gun Kelly’s video for “Wild Boy.”

“It was so extra and I was like ‘that’s him,’” she laughs. 

The director made it clear that she would not put up with any “Wild Boy” antics on set but MGK fought for his movie debut. He flew himself out on three separate occasions to read with Mbatha-Raw. MGK now has two more movies on the way.

3. The film’s original name was “Blackbird.” 

Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” is a major thread throughout the film so, naturally, the writer and director wanted her project to carry the same name. Her choices were limited after running into copyright issues with an indie film that had the same title. The studio gave Prince-Bythewood three choices: “Love & Fame,” “Beyond The Lights,” and “Love Song.” Yes, “Love & Fame.” Given the options, the final choice was a no-brainer.  

4. Nicki Minaj’s “Save Me” helped inspire the film.

Prince-Bythewood writes her scripts with music already in mind.

“I put together a playlist of songs that can open me up emotionally to what I’m writing,” she says.

She wrote “Love & Basketball” to Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor” but “Beyond The Lights” carried a different tune. Labrinth and Emile Sandé’s “Beneath Your Beautiful” and Nicki Minaj’s “Save Me” played in the background as Prince-Bythewood wrote the lines to “Beyond the Lights.”

5. Gugu Mbatha-Raw can really sing.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives a new meaning to “Raw” in “Beyond the Lights.” Every song that Noni sings is actually sung by the English-born actress. Prince-Bythewood knew that she had found her Noni after Mbatha-Raw did a reading for the part. The next challenge was making sure that Mbatha-Raw could actually sing. Prince-Bythewood was living on a prayer in hopes that the talented actress could at least carry a tune but what she got was much more. Lucky for her, the actress had a background in musical theater and was able to go through intense vocal training for the part. Make sure to watch the film to catch Mbatha-Raw’s cover of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird.”

“Beyond the Lights” hits theaters nationwide on November 14. 

Reach Staff Reporter Ashley Velez here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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