Luce: Onah’s Edgy Dramatic Thriller, Contesting Racial Stereotypes

Julius Onah directed Luce, a timely indie about relevant social issues, from a script penned by him and JC Lee, which deviates from most Hollywood’s high-school features.

World premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Fest, it was theatrically released by NEON in August as counter-programming.

Luce Edgar, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, is an all-star high school athlete and accomplished debater, adored by other students and his parents Peter and Amy Edgar.

However, he has an intense dislike of his history teacher Harriet Wilson, who is the reason his friend DeShaun was kicked off the running team after Harriet found weed in his locker and called the police.

Harriet alerts Amy about a paper that Luce wrote for a class assignment about an historical figure. Luce chose Frantz Fanon, a political revolutionary who advocated the use of violence in battling colonialism. Harriet sees this as a red flag as Luce was a child soldier before being adopted, and, moreover, searching through Luce’s locker, she found a bag of illegal fireworks.

Amy shows Peter the paper and fireworks, but decide not to mention it to Luce. During dinner, Luce accuses Harriet of singling out students to make a point. She uses Stephanie Kim, allegedly a victim of sexual abuse, as an example of a victimized woman.

In Luce’s case, he is Harriet’s shining example of a star black student, which is not how he wants to be seen, arguing that he doesn’t want to be a symbol of tokenism. Later, Luce finds the hidden paper and fireworks.

Luce acknowledges his wording but dismisses any belief in violence. He then makes a comment about fireworks that Harriet interprets as a threat.

He explains that members of the track team share lockers, so the fireworks do not belong to him. Peter thinks Luce is lying to them, while Amy is uncertain.

Harriet is tending to her sister Rosemary, who suffers from unspecified mental illness. The two have an encounter with Luce which unsettles Harriet and later, Harriet finds Rosemary trashing the house.

At a car wash fundraiser, Luce promises to DeShaun that he will make things right. Meanwhile, Amy meets with Stephanie, who tells her that she and Luce used to date. Stephanie describes being sexually assaulted at a party by several boys, but denies Luce’s involvement.

The next day Rosemary arrives at school and has a breakdown in public. Luce shows a video of the incident to Amy and Peter which disturbs them. Harriet’s home is vandalized that night and Stephanie arrives shortly after to tell her that Luce sexually assaulted her.

Luce quickly disproves Harriet’s accusations with video evidence and Harriet’s harsh questions quickly make Amy and Peter turn on her.

When Harriet brings up the fireworks to Amy, Amy lies and says that she knows nothing about them. At night, fireworks explode inside of Harriet’s desk, causing a fire; Harriet is fired due to heavy suspicion against her. When the fireworks are gone, Peter believes Luce was involved, but Amy insists that they will stand up for their son and not come to Harriet’s defense.

Luce confronts Harriet, claiming that she ruined DeShaun’s athletic career, while putting him on a pedestal–Luce thinks that she had stereotyped them.

Amy follows Luce to a hideout where he meets with Stephanie for sex. Back home, Luce reconciles with Amy.

Luce gives a speech at school in which he thanks Amy and Peter for raising him before heading for a run.

Cast

Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Luce Edgar
Octavia Spencer as Harriet Wilson
Naomi Watts as Amy Edgar
Tim Roth as Peter Edgar
Brian Bradley as DeShaun Meeks
Andrea Bang as Stephanie Kim
Norbert Leo Butz as Dan Towson
Marsha Stephanie Blake as Rosemary Wilson
Noah Gaynor as Kenny Orlicki
Omar Brunson as Corey Johnson
Christopher Mann as Coach Reeves