White Fear, Black Grief, and the Horrors of Being Put in a Box: A Conversation with “Luce” Filmmaker Julius Onah and Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Eileen G’Sell, senior lecturer in college writing in Arts & Sciences

 

Early on in Luce, a late summer psychodrama, American history teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) requests to speak with Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts), the adopted mother of Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high school honor student whose honor would seem to be under sudden suspicion. “Given Luce’s background, you and Peter must have faced quite a few challenges,” says Harriet from her classroom desk, referring to the young man’s childhood spent in embroiled Eritrea. To this, Amy responds, “I mean you don’t pull a kid out of a warzone and have him turn out like Luce without a lot of help.” Harriet replies with a direct gaze and sharp drop in tone: “Which is why this is going to be difficult.” “Difficult?” blinks Amy, her china blue eyes radiating cluelessness.

In a way, this exchange encapsulates the crux of what is undoubtedly — and necessarily —one of the summer’s most difficult films, perhaps especially for white, progressive-minded viewers.

Read the full piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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