By Andrew Harwood
Culture is a significant entity that stands as the makeup of one’s background and lifestyle. Culture is pride, worth and humanity.
Culture has been at the forefront of the film industry for quite some time. Since it is Black History Month, it only seems fitting to discuss a film that celebrates Black culture and life. However, such a task isn’t as simple as it might sound.
Many filmmakers fail to capture the feeling and substance of what it is like to be Black. I have no experience with this, so that is one thing I will never understand. But I like to think I can comprehend whether a film is good or not. So, this week we will be discussing Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock.”
Co-written and directed by McQueen, “Lovers Rock” tells the story of young love, thrills and Reggae set during the span of a house party in West London in 1980. Part of McQueen’s 2020 anthology film series “Small Axe,” which was made in part to celebrate Black culture in the United Kingdom, “Lovers Rock” is exactly what it is meant to be: a celebration.
We first witness British-Jamaican gentlemen move out all the furniture from their almost impeccably pristine ’80s living room. As the party is set up, the music begins — not in the living room, but the kitchen, as three women sing hymns and dance to the sounds of their cooking. The atmosphere is inviting, not just through image and sound, but through the organic and loveable charisma beaming off the screen from the characters.
As the film progresses, we are introduced to our protagonist Martha — played by first-time actress Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn — as she makes her way to the house party. From here, there is no need to divulge the film’s synopsis because I don’t want to spoil anything. There is a house party, there is love, there are thrills, there is a fight, there is will.
What seems to be most impressive about “Lovers Rock” is McQueen’s use of sound to evoke the actors’ emotions. Reggae blasts from dollar-store speakers, bringing partygoers to their feet. Then, the sound slows as Martha makes eye-contact with her betrothed. It’s a simple but profound tactic that emphasizes the mood of the night.
This is where I’d like to shed light on the use of Reggae and its effects on the subjects at hand. I’ve discussed “style over substance” a few times in this series, and McQueen is no stranger to that. However, I give him credit for his ability to pull the brilliant from the simple. On the surface, we have a house party fueled by Reggae: the sound of Jamaican culture and community. Past that, we have a plethora of individual stories shaped around a central love connection. These themes are reminiscent of Reggae itself: music that makes listeners feel good through its sound and lyrics. A celebration of life itself is perhaps best noted through the constant reminder of living and celebrating the good times despite the bad ones.
One of the first images we see is a man carrying a cross — a mirroring of Jesus carrying the cross to his crucifixion. Martha, a young church-goer who sneaks out to attend house parties, bears a cross around her neck — an image of purity amongst what is denoted to be a night of sin. Is this too far of a take on such a thing? Perhaps, but I believe we are shown this for a reason. It is important to recognize that some details might not just be for show.
The “Black Jesus” is shown again before Martha returns home. This time, he lays down his cross like he is “dying for our sins,” for the man, dressed in a suit, prim and proper, seemed not to rejoice in the thrill of music and love.
What is there to say about a film that is much more than what it seems? Plenty. But, I’ll spare you the inconvenience.
A film that aims to depict and celebrate the life of rhythm and love as well, “Lovers Rock” can help showcase Black history and culture.