Letting the light shine within is the message behind the new Disney move “Let it Shine.” A modern day story inspired by the 19th-century, ghostwritten love letters of Cyrano de Bergerac, “Let it Shine” is set in the world of hip-hop and gospel music and expresses the importance of staying true to oneself.
Starring Tyler James Williams (“Everybody Hates Chris”) as Cyrus DeBarge, Coco Jones (Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing”) as Roxanne Andrews, Trevor Jackson (“Eureka”) as Kris McDuffy, Dawnn Lewis (“Hanging with Mr. Cooper,” “A Different World”) as Cyrus’ mother, Gail DeBarge, and Courtney B. Vance (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “Revenge”) as Cyrus’ preacher father, Jacob DeBarge, this is the Disney Channel’s first original movie featuring a Black-led cast.
“Let it Shine” was directed by two-time DGA award winner Paul Hoen (“Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam,” “JONAS”), written by Eric Daniel and Don D. Scott (“Barbershop,” “Barbershop 2: Back in Business”) and choreographed by Danny Teeson (“American Idol”) and Brandon Shaw.
“The show, ‘Eureka,’ prepared me for the role of Kris because it was a great learning ground for me,” Jackson said. “When I did “Let It Shine” it was an easy transition for me; I already had that experience and knew what to expect. When I first got the script for the film I was amazed at the writing; the story line was completely different from anything that Disney has done before.
“I really wanted to a part of this movie because of the message behind the movie,” James continued. “The reason why I do what I do, entertainment-wise, is because I want to be the best and be put in the position where I’m able to influence people. This is what this movie does; it’s very relevant to the issues of what kids are dealing with today.”
The story unfolds in Atlanta, Georgia, as Cyrus DeBarge and his best friend Kris McDuffy reunite with their childhood friend, teenage singing sensation Roxanne “Roxie” Andrews, whose music label is sponsoring a songwriting contest at a teen club. Cyrus, who writes music under the name “Truth,” crafts a heartfelt and contest-winning rhyme about Roxie but to his dismay, his work is mistakenly attributed to Kris. Lacking the confidence to step forward, Cyrus stands by while Kris not only takes credit for the lyrics but ultimately begins to win Roxanne’s heart too. Now, it’s up to the true poet to overcome self-doubt, seize the opportunity to reveal his authentic self and pursue his dreams. All the while, Cyrus must convince his preacher father that hip-hop music can have a positive message.
“My character Roxie sings, dances and raps,” Jones said.
The young Disney starlet, who came into the Disney family as a featured artist on season three of Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing, a musical talent showcase competition, released her self titled debut album in 2012 describes her sound as a mixture of Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Nicki Minaj. However, keeping in step with her values of strong self-esteem and morals, Jones acknowledges that she has a lot of young eyes watching her.
“I’m definitely going to be a good example for them,” she said. “One way that I plan on doing that is just being myself. That’s why I wanted to play this character. I want kids to see that it’s never too late to let the real you shine within. Roxie is not only learning to believe in herself, but she gains confidence and grows as a person through her life experiences. All girls need to know that despite what other people say you’re beautiful and can make a difference by being who you are.”
As the lyrical genius Cyrus, Williams departs from his previous comedic role, to play a character who is talented, but lacks self-esteem. In a society where bullying is at the forefront of many kids issues, Williams is hoping that this film will open up conversations between kids and their families.
“Being yourself has always been an issue regardless of the time,” he said. “I’m glad that it’s at the forefront right now, but it’s an issue that everyone has gone through at some point in their life. In this film, we’re not just talking about regular kids, but we’re also talking about kids in the industry. That is a huge element in the film, because a lot of artists in the industry aren’t being themselves and now the kids are being influenced by it.
“Let it Shine” will also open the door for kids and parents to have that conversation about acceptance and being true to one self. A lot of parents may not be comfortable with the music their kids are listening to, without even hearing it first; this is a huge conflict that we have in this film between Cyrus and his father. This movie will open up many conversations, which is really just the goal. We want to get parents and kids talking because at the end of the day if everything is right at home, we won’t have as many issues when we go out into the world.”
“Let it Shine” debuts on the Disney Channel June 15 at 8 p.m.
He played the prestigious pilot in “Tuskegee Airmen” and activist Bobby Seale in “Panther.” He was the secret and shy Lymon in the film adaptation of “The Piano Lesson” and a top notch assistant district attorney in “Law Order: Criminal Intent.” Now, Courtney B. Vance returns to the spotlight in the Disney movie “Let it Shine.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have a career in film, theater and TV,” Vance said. “As long as the story is good, the directors and producers are supportive it will be a good experience. When everyone is on the same page and we’re telling a great story; that’s when something magical happens. It’s never about an individual, but about putting the best effort forward to create a great project. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of many great teams throughout my career.”
Vance plays Jacob Debarge, an overbearing pastor who does not like hip-hop music. His stance on hip-hop music causes a rift between him and his son Cyrus (Tyler James Williams), a shy, talented musician who pens romantic verses only to stand idly by as they’re delivered to the girl of his dreams by his best friend. This will be the third time Vance portrays a pastor in a motion picture. He also played a pastor in “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Joyful Noise.”
“What drew me to Pastor Jacob Debarge was the storyline and that the backdrop of that story was set in the world of hip-hop and gospel. In this film, the audience will see that it is possible to bridge the gap between the younger and older generation. I really like Tyler James Williams, and Dawnn Lewis and I were in a project together years ago, so I was just excited about the project. Working with the cast was really a dream experience. There was a really clear vision of the film. Once everyone knew what the plan was and executed it; we had fun.”
Married to actress Angela Bassett for 15 years and a father of twins, Vances’ latest project is geared toward families and kids. He said it is not often he gets to do family projects, but when he does, it is special because he can share those projects with his own family.
“It’s wonderful to be in a project like this. A lot of times you do a project and it’s something your children can’t watch, but this film is one where kids in their school will be talking about that project that I’m in. It’s wonderful to be able to share what you do with your children.
“This film message is all about self confidence, overcoming obstacles, talking about issues, and bringing families together,” he continued. “Sometimes, as parents, we may think we know the best way to address issues, but that doesn’t always make it the right way. As a parent you do your best, you raise them, and have faith in the Lord, but you also have to let your kids make a couple mistakes in order for them to grow and find their own path. You can love them and guide them, but if they do stray down the wrong path you just hope for the best. You pray about it and hope they will come right back.”
With a career that spans 29 years and has earned him two Tony nominations, Vance is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. His show, “Revenge,” was picked up for a second season. He recently did a pilot for a show called “Graceland” and is developing and producing a film called “Book of the Year” with his wife.
“We’re partnering up with Sony, Bishop TD Jakes, and we’re in talks with Idris Elba to star in it,” he said. “This project will be my wife’s first directorial debut, so I’m excited about that. I have other projects in the work, but some of those are in the early stages.
“Looking back on my career and my life; I’ve been blessed. God has given me a gift and provided me with the platform to do it and I have a beautiful and loving family. Life is good; summer is coming up and I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and enrolling the kids in first grade.”
If some incarnation of “Glee” were to be developed for the Christian Broadcasting Network, it would probably look a lot like “Joyful Noise.”
You’ve got your squeaky-clean reworkings of pop tunes from various decades, which are intended to please viewers of all ages; some romance, although nothing too hot and heavy; and a large dollop of prayer, as the characters struggle to find answers with the Lord’s help. It’s really rather canny the way writer-director Todd Graff’s film caters to these large, wholesome audiences — ones that are largely underserved in mainstream multiplex fare — all at once.
But that doesn’t mean it’s effective as entertainment. Especially during the musical numbers — which theoretically should serve as the most rousing source of emotion, since the film is about a gospel choir — there’s a weird disconnect, a sense that the songs are simultaneously overproduced and hollow, and repeated cutaways to reaction shots of singers nodding and smiling further undermine their cohesion. A powerful performance of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” toward the start is a rare exception.
If there’s one useful nugget to be gleaned here, though, it’s that virtually anything can be turned into a gospel song; apparently “Yeah” by Usher could be about Jesus if you wanted it to be.
A progressive push for contemporary music vs. the tug of traditional spiritual tunes is at the core of “Joyful Noise” and represents the primary source of tension. That’s how little is at stake here.
When the church choir in depressed, small-town Pacashau, Georgia, loses its leader (Kris Kristofferson) to a heart attack, veteran singer Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) is tapped to take over, rather than the late director’s widow, G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton). Vi Rose is a modest, conservative Christian nurse raising her two teenage kids on her own while her husband’s away serving in the Army. G.G. is all sass and big hair and folksy metaphors, usually involving animals: “There’s always free cheese in the mousetrap, but trust me, the mice there ain’t happy.” It’s who you might imagine Parton’s “Steel Magnolias” character had become a couple decades later, if you were to ponder such questions.
Anyway, Vi Rose and G.G. hurl passive-aggressive barbs at each other in a continuation of a long-standing hatred that’s never fully explained, and probably should have been. Guess they just plain don’t like each other. So when G.G.’s nebulously naughty grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), moves back to town and promptly falls for Vi Rose’s blossoming, 16-year-old songbird daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), the women’s animosity boils over and threatens to destroy the entire choir as we know it — right as they’re gaining momentum in the annual National Joyful Noise Competition.
Graff, who previously directed the similarly musical “Camp” and “Bandslam,” jumps around awkwardly between catfights, performances and surreptitious snuggle sessions between the two young stars, both of whom can really sing (Jordan has appeared on Broadway in “Bonnie and Clyde”). Sometimes Graff veers wildly off course, as he does with a subplot in which a female church singer has sex with one of her fellow choir members, and when he dies soon afterward, she’s branded as a man-killer throughout the nationwide gospel-choir circuit. A fantasy duet in which G.G. and her late husband sing and dance in the front yard goes on for an eternity.
There’s also a subplot in which Randy tries to prove himself to Vi Rose by taking her teenage son with Asperger’s syndrome (Dexter Darden) under his wing; clearly the film means well by including this storyline but it feels wedged-in from a narrative perspective.
Except for a climactic confrontation in which Vi Rose finally snaps and unleashes her frustration on the rebellious, ungrateful Olivia, very few sounds in “Joyful Noise” ring true.
“Joyful Noise,” a Warner Bros. pictures release, is rated PG-13 for some language, including a sexual reference. — (AP)