Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Perhaps one of the most intriguing and underrated films of 2019 is Luce. You may argue that 2019 was flooded with legendary films such as Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite and Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit, however, no film mentioned above intertwines mystery with race and tokenism like Luce (2019) does.
The film begins with Luce, a former child soldier from Eritrea turned promising high school student and athlete, giving a speech to his school. He is congratulated for his inspirational speech by his adopted parents, Peter and Amy Edgar, along with most of his teachers. However, his parents soon discover that Luce is not on good terms with his history teacher, Miss Wilson. Luce tells his parents that Miss Wilson uses students to prove a point, for example, comparing Luce’s less successful black friend DeShaun to Luce, often telling DeShaun to be more like Luce. Another example Miss Wilson uses is of fellow student Stephanie Kim, who was sexually assaulted at a party, as an example of a woman remaining silent about her sexual assault. Miss Wilson later calls Amy expressing concern for him after grading a paper in which Luce glorified a radical warlord. Amy defends Luce, prompting Miss Wilson to bring out the paper bag containing illegal fireworks. Miss Wilson claims that she found them in Luce’s locker. Amy takes the fireworks and paper home and tells Peter about the items. A rift forms between Peter and Amy, with Amy defending Luce and Peter believing that something is amiss with Luce. With more and more secrets being revealed about Luce, including a confession from Stephanie Kim, Amy begins to question the integrity of her seemingly perfect son.
Similar to Parasite (2019), Luce (2019) is a film that makes the audience question the film. While Parasite (2019) asks the question of who is the real parasite, Luce (2019) asks the question of who’s telling the truth: Luce or Miss Wilson? On one hand, Luce makes a good argument about not wanting to be an Obama-esque stereotype, the seemingly perfect immigrant who managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to overcome any difficulties they have to produce a better life for themselves in the U.S. However, is he just a victim of Miss Wilson’s unfair treatment or did he instigate all the events in the film to get her fired? In addition, Luce (2019) raises important themes about stereotypes and tokenism and the damage both do to those affected. The film does this with two examples: Luce and DeShaun. Whereas Luce is seen as the articulate and intelligent black person, DeShaun is the academically struggling black person.
While Luce (2019) brought home awards at the Chlotrudis Awards, New York Film Critics Online, and San Diego Film Critics Society Awards, it failed to garner any attention at the 2019 Golden Globes and Academy Awards. This is a shame, as I think Luce (2019) deserves far more credit as a film that challenges the viewer and forces them to make the hard decisions. Overall, Luce (2019) is a film with a gripping plot, strong performances, and a lingering question that will keep you up at night: who’s telling the truth?