High schooler, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), overcame a nightmarish past as a child soldier in Eritrea to become the definition of the All-American teenager. As a valedictorian, track star, and all-around popular kid, his life seems set until he suddenly finds himself at odds with an overbearing teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). When his loving adoptive parents, played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, become entangled in the suspicions of this teacher, complex questions of prejudice suddenly bubble to the surface, threatening to expose the ugly truths about all involved. (Tribeca Film Festival)
Luce is a captivating thriller that challenges views on parenting and prejudice surrounding adoptive interracial families. The film really kept me ambivalent as to what the motives of each character really was. The talented cast peeled back the layers of their respective characters, especially rising star, Kelvin Harris Jr., who portrays Luce as a cunning, charming, and an innocent teenager. The parents did well at convincing us of juggling raising Luce and keeping their marriage together. Octavia Spencer, once again, portrayed a phemonal role as the teacher that has concerns about Luce that may derail his path to a successful college career.
Luce at Tribeca
At the Tribeca Film Festival, I was able to talk to the writer, director, and producer, Julius Ohna, on the red carpet who explained, “ I want people to ask real questions about the way they perceive things like privilege. We live in these multicultural societies, where the ways that we look at each other can have a real impact on the way people’s lives are led and if we are asking questions that are beyond our blind spots and not looking past them, I think there’s a real change that can come.”
The red carpet interviews and the showing were followed by a Q&A with the director and cast. I felt there was going to be tension in the room as the film depicted issues that society as a whole tends to leave unanswered.
The host of the Q&A – writer, director, and radio producer, Rebecca Carroll – asked thought-provoking questions. Those very same questions caused a lot of the audience members to leave the building due to the sensitive topic. One of the more difficult questions asked was about how does the white couple feel raising a young black teenager? A question that only Onley could answer since he wrote the film.
Tim Roth and other castmates could only approach the question as concerned parents, nothing more. Boasting a revelatory central performance by Harrison (who also appears this year in Gully) and nuanced work from an electrifying ensemble, director and co-writer Julius Onah twists this tale (adapted with JC Lee from his own play) into unexpected shapes, forcing the audience to examine the characters from every imaginable angle. Tension pulls at the screen, allegiances shift, and the viewer’s own biases are used to deepen the storytelling in masterful ways.
Takaways from the film?
- Mental health is still a significant issue that needs to be addressed for people of color, especially the child soldiers, like Luce, who suffer from a tremendous amount of stress and mental manipulation.
Caring for family living with extreme mental health conditions is a difficult job. The Wilson sisters in the film, portrayed by Octavia Spencer and Marsha Stephanie Blake, gave an in-depth look at how this requires patience and a lot of energy.
- People still don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation when it comes to racism. While watching this film and attending the Q&A after the Tribeca premiere, I noticed how the characters in the film and people in the audience avoided the issue of racism.
- Immigrants are not evil and they are not novelties. In the film, it is shown that Luce is sort of a token character and he plays the role to a tee to fit his needs. Although it is just a film, it can show how, in some cases, children in this situation can be championed in comparison to another teens who come from a background with non-adoptive parents who happen to be Black.
- Trials and tribulations have no bias. The film does a great job of displaying the temptations and issues that the teenagers in the suburbs deal with that are similar to teens living in the inner city. The teens come from different backgrounds but still face life challenges.
Nonetheless, Luce is a great, thrilling film that properly addresses social and racial issues. If you’re looking for a film that is thought provoking and filled with many plot twists, you should definitely check it out.
Luce is in theaters now. It stars Kelvin Harris Jr., Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, Andrea Bang, and Marsha Stephanie Blake.