Julius Onah and Kelvin Harrison Jr. discuss Luce
Back in late January, I attended the World Premiere of Luce at the Sundance Film Festival. After seeing the film, I immediately knew that I would need to watch the film at least one more time before I could review it. Thankfully, Neon picked up the film during the festival and will be releasing it into select theaters this weekend with hopefully a much wider expansion to come in the week ahead.
In celebration of the release of Luce, I had the opportunity to not only revisit the film and write my review for it, but I also had the privilege to sit down with Julius Onah and Kelvin Harrison Jr to discuss the film as well as its origins from stage to screen. You can watch my interview above in video form or if you prefer to read what was discussed, you can check out the full transcript below.
Scott: Good Afternoon, a huge congratulations on this brilliant film. I saw it at Sundance at its first screening at the Park City Library.
Julius: Yes! That means you saw the 35-millimeter print.
Scott: I did and what a fantastic film. Luce is one of my favorite films from Sundance this year, and one that I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about for the rest of the festival. I want to open this up by asking you a question that I didn’t even realize going into the film. This is based on a play so did you know about the play prior to adapting this into a screenplay?
Julius: Yeah, I’ll keep this answer short, but it was a roundabout way how I came to the play. JC Lee, an incredibly talented writer, was working in television and I almost got involved with the project. Actually, I did get involved with a project that Scott Rudin and his executive, Kim Roth, was doing over at Imagine. But before I came on board, I knew nothing about JC. And so I was told, “Read his writing sample.” Well, the writing sample was Luce, and I jumped on that movie because the writing sample just put its hooks in me, and I knew the minute that I was done reading it, I wanted to turn it into a film. I just thought it was such a brave, bold, and honest exploration of really important issues.
Scott: Oh, I agree, it’s fantastic. So, Kelvin, what was your initial reaction when you got that script? Could you believe what you just read?
Kelvin: I was like, “Holy bleep.” You know? Like, “What’s going on?” I was just really excited, because it was the first time I read a script and that I couldn’t stop turning the pages and thinking “These are the conversations this 17-year-old kid is having right now. This is how he’s challenging his parents and his teachers. This is how they’re responding. This is how people see me.” You know? It felt personal in certain moments. And so, it was exciting. It was exciting, but it was also timely and necessary.
Scott: I feel like there’s been a lot of movies over the last couple of years that feel so important and relevant to the world today. Like, The Hate U Give from last year was so relevant and important today. But this movie, I think really addresses issues not only of race and identity but the judgment we place on others and making people into poster children and things of that nature. Why did you two feel like this was the right movie to make and the right story to tell right now?
Julius: You know, it’s something I wanted to tell for a few years, but to be brutally honest, part of what galvanized me was the election that happened in 2016, and the way you saw a pendulum swing in this country from what Obama represented to what Trump is representing now. And I thought it was important to ask ourselves a serious question about what it means, as you said, to be a poster child. Because that really is a question about what it means to live your life on a symbolic level. Right?
On one hand, when we demonize somebody in a negative way, as you know, on the basis of race, we’re saying they’re the worst versions of who they are. But then when we deify them and say they’re the best version of what they are, it is the inverse of that problem, which is being afraid to recognize them for who they are, and what’s the truth in the middle, the gray, the humanity, the perfection and the imperfection and the multitudes that we all contain. And until we are able to start to grasp the fact that we do contain those multitudes, not just on an intellectual level but on an experiential level in terms of how we treat each other, then we will continue to deny people their humanity. Then we will continue to deny people agency. And I think we will continue to be in this heated fractured moment that we’re in.
Scott: That was an awesome response. Well, I wish I had more time to talk to you because I could go on about this movie for like 30 to 40 minutes because it’s that great but I do really hope that this movie does well when it comes out, and gets some award season love because it deserves it.
Julius: Thank you, sir.
Kelvin: Thank you so much.
Scott: No problem at all. Hope you both have a fantastic day!
Luce opens in limited release on August 2, 2019. Be sure to seek out this incredible and powerful little film.