‘Luce’ a question on tolerance as an African child soldier finds safety in America

Lapacazo Sandoval | 8/8/2019, 12:29 p.m.
The new indie film “Luce”—based on the JC Le’s off-Broadway play in its transformation from the stage to the big ...

The new indie film “Luce”—based on the JC Le’s off-Broadway play in its transformation from the stage to the big screen—retains its ability to generate conversation on the issues of prejudice, racism, and what it means to embrace American opportunities. 

This film explores idealism. It asks the audience to examine the expectations we have for others, with the question of what we expect from ourselves. 

Director Julius Onah (“The Cloverfield Paradox”) keeps the focus on the big themes. Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) was born in Eritrea but raised in an upper-middle-class U.S. household by a white couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). A former child soldier, the adjustment proved challenging at the beginning—as told via dialogue—but Amy and Peter, perfect parents, lovingly guided Luce through years of therapy.

Thanks to the encouragement and therapy, Luce serves as captain of the basketball team and seems to be on track to become valedictorian of his senior class. Things are going perfectly until one of Luce’s teachers, Harriet Wilson (played by Octavia Spencer), search his locker and finds a bag of illegal fireworks. She immediately calls in Luce’s adoptive mother, Amy, for a parent-teacher meeting. 

Amy shares the dilemma with her husband, Peter, who has his own opinion of the situation—because no one knows their son better than they do, and that they give him trust and respect.

Here we question whether Mrs. Wilson overstepped her bounds and violated Luce’s privacy with the dialogue centering on why she felt compelled to check up on him in the first place. Is she afraid of the former child soldier?

In defending herself, Mrs. Wilson admits she factors each student’s background into her expectations of their potential, and she holds the female and non-white students to a higher standard than their white peers because she knows that the real world will do the same thing.

It’s revealed that Mrs. Wilson has a pattern; she confiscated marijuana from the locker of an African-American jock named DeShaun (Astro) and is getting him kicked off the team. Black-on-Black discussion on keeping the race down, anyone?

But the truth is powerful because Luce knows that most of the guys on the team share one another’s lockers—which means the weed probably wasn’t the jock’s, and the fireworks might not have belonged to Luce. This is where the film shines asking real questions, like by selectively investigating, Mrs. Wilson discovered “evidence” to confirm her own worst suspension. The film gets more interesting, like when Luce’s girlfriend, Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang), shares that his teammates took advantage of her at a party where alcohol was served. The question on the table: did Luce come to her rescue, as she claims?

In a bolder choice, the movie entertains the idea that Luce may be a sociopath (Onah was born in Africa and brings weight and his relevant experience to the material), which makes “Luce” so ingeniously subversive as a piece of theater.

“Luce” written and directed by Julius Onah. Starring Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang, Astro, Andrea Bang.