Blerd Film Club: Luce (2019)


Oreo, house nigga, or Uncle Tom, it all boils down to being the acceptable Negro. If you're not black, your race undoubtedly have something similar, coconuts, Twinkies and Tio Toms. The idea is something that has plagued us for a long time. People get unfairly placed in these boxes with no thought to what the results might be. Placing someone in these roles just to have a token of diversity, a trickle down solution to racism. The 2019 film Luce does something that not many films have touched on before.

Luce is a teenage boy from Eritrea, who was adopted by a white couple. After a few years of therapy, he's a well adjusted straight A student track star. He leads the debate team and participates in multiple extra curricular activities. Despite that, he still feels he's gotten nothing but animosity from Harriet Wilson, the only Black teacher in the school, and his History teacher. She had previously gotten his friend DeShaun kicked off the track time for finding marijuana in his locker, because she randomly decided to search it. We witnessed DeShaun storm out of her class earlier in the film with Luce giving chase after Harriet pressed him about the confederate flag. Now we understand where that animosity came from.

Similarly she finds illegal fireworks in Luce's locker. She searched Luce's locker after he completes and assignment she had given. Students were supposed to pick a person from history and write from their perspective. Luce chose Frantz Fannon. Fannon was a revolutionary that believed violence was the only way to free colonized people and gain independence. Harriet calls Luce's mother Amy to discuss these things and gives her the essay and fireworks.

At dinner, they choose not to discuss these things, but listen to Luce explaining how Harriet is a problem. Luce mentions that she regularly singles out students in an attempt to force them to into the role she wants them to play. One example was Stephanie Kim, a classmate of Luce's. She was sexually assaulted at a party, allegedly. When discussing a chapter on suffrage Harriet supposedly singled out Stephanie as a woman who was suffering in silence. As for Luce, he is seen as an example of what a black student should be. Luce finds the essay and fireworks that Amy failed to hide well.

The next day he invites Harriet and the principal to debate practice, under the guise of requesting help. There he engages Harriet in a debate over student's rights, purposely using an example where a teacher had searched a student's locker. Luce agrees that if there is probable clause a student's locker should be searched. However, he doesn't believe intuition is enough of a cause, because at the end of the day intuition is just suspicion mixed with speculation. Later Harrier holds Luce after class and they discuss his paper, which she doesn't have. Luce explains he was just following the assignment and he may have gone too far. Harriet doesn't believe that. She thinks he's trying to see how far he can push things. On the way out he asks her what her favorite holiday is. Luce explains that the 4th of July is his favorite because freedom is something he didn't know until he came here and the fireworks were beautiful.

Harriet views this as a threat and calls Luce's parents. He's confronted by Amy and Peter. Amy isn't sure who to believe, but Peter believes Luce threatened Harriet. This causes some obvious tension with Peter and Luce both taking off in different directions. From here, we switch to Harriet. She's meeting with her sister Rosemary who has some kind of mental illness. She's going to take Rosemary to live with her after Rosemary states that she was never good enough for Harriet. Meanwhile Amy meets with Stephanie in a coffee shop to learn more about Luce. She learns that Stephanie and Luce had dated for a while. She also learns that Stephanie was sexually assaulted at a party and Luce was the one who saved her and comforted her afterwards. Stephanie contacts Luce about the meeting. At this point, all of the key players are in action and we're on the way to a confrontation between several of them.

I actually refuse to spoil the rest of this film, on principal. It's without a doubt one of the best films I've seen recently. It might even be one of my favorite films now. There isn't a single bad actor in the film. Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Octavia Spencer are disgustingly good in their roles. The cinematography, is incredible. The music is great. It is without a doubt some of the best storytelling I've ever seen. Throughout the film I felt multiple emotions and formed complex opinions about every character. It's simply, phenomenal and those aren't words I just casually toss around.


The key take away from this film, for me anyway is the idea of the acceptable negro. Luce does well in school, so he's acceptable. He should be held up as the standard that we all look to. Infallible and can never make a misstep. However, DeShaun doesn't do well in class and Corey isn't as good at track so at the end of the day they're just niggas. Harriet, the coaches, the principal and everyone else had no problem tossing them to the side and placing them in a box.

The acceptable negro is a myth that hurts not only the individual but Black people as a whole. I think of two songs. Nas' "These are our Heroes," and Skizzy Mars' "Skiz Again." Both of these songs flirt with the idea of being acceptable and how it hurts. Nas states:
Whitey always tell him, ooh he speaks so well. Are you the one we look to? The Decent Negro? The acceotable Negro? Hell nah, but they say these are our heroes.
Harriet tried to set Luce up to be a hero like so many Black people have been deemed acceptable and made heroes by society at large. Only for them to make a mistake and be cast into the fire as a condemnation of Black People as a whole. Bill Cosby is the acceptable negro, until the world is made aware he has a history of rape. These heroes selected for us, and supposedly represent us. But, they aren't our heroes. We're more likely to look to Bill Robinson better known as "Bojangles," because we know what he had to go through and we know what he did for Civil Rights even if it doesn't get brought up. The second song Skizzy Mars states:
Grew up thinking I had to be perfect, and when I failed that I wasn't worth shit.
When you're the acceptable Negro, nobody stops to think how you feel. Sure, some people like the previous Bill Cosby live on it. They love to wag a finger and tell all the other Black people to get in line. But, that isn't the case for everyone who is deemed the acceptable negro. The actress Zendaya once went on the record with how she feels pressured to because Hollywood has decided she is an acceptable Negro so now everything she does is under a microscope. If she messes up, then Hollywood might not cast another Black actress. The idea that you're not allowed to fail can be haunting because for so long you're told that the hopes of everyone rest on your back.

Watching the final scenes of the movie, I didn't realize I had started shedding tears. Watching Luce and Harriet argue about why we need the acceptable Negro bothered me deep down. It gave me chills. Because in Harriet's mind, she was doing the right thing. She was protecting Luce from being victimized by America and creating a vision of Black people the world can accept. She hoped that the world could change once acceptable Negro at a time. But, Luce was right. She stereotyped him, and she may have been right about America putting him in a box the moment he stepped foot here, but she closed the lid. She closed the lid on him, Corey, DeShaun and countless other students because they weren't good enough in her eyes. Not even her own sister, was good enough in her own eyes. On the flip side, Luce had no problem using those same people to protect himself. They were simply two sides of the same twisted coin.

In the closing moments we see Luce give a speech, he's grateful to be in America. America is a place where you can always start over. A place where you don't have to be boxed in. A place where you can tell your own story. Afterwards we see Luce jogging through the neighborhood. He picks up speed, and slowly his face displays rage and he yells. Because no matter how good the speech was, and how everyone loved it, it was bullshit.

I loved this movie, and it unexpectedly hit way too close to home for me. I didn't think I would feel so much for these characters. Even charters I disliked, like Harriet, I felt for them. I knew where Peter was coming from, I still disliked him. When I watched the film, I had to talk to someone about it, I had to show it to someone. It's honestly the best movie I've seen in a long long time. Probably one of my favorites now. I can't recommend it enough because movies that shake you to the core, are few and far between. Everyone might not have an emotional connection to the film as deep as I did, but if you feel nothing, then you've truly been placed in a box.

You can check out some of my fiction at 12 AM Fiction or follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast.
Blerd Film Club: Luce (2019)  Blerd Film Club: Luce (2019) Reviewed by Darrell S. on Monday, February 17, 2020 Rating: 5

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