CHEVALIER (2023) – Bio Pic of Black French Composer Shows How Racism Ruined a Life and a Career


CHEVALIER (2023) is a handsome production that takes place in France just before the French Revolution and is based on the true story of little-known French composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a black man who because of his musical talent was accepted into French high society, but eventually racism derailed any hopes he had of remaining a celebrated composer.

It is not a pleasant story, but it is one that everyone needs to learn about.

CHEVALIER (2023) opens in rousing style with a lively concert scene where we witness young Chevalier (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) take the stage alongside Mozart and pretty much show him up in a violin competition for the ages. The sequence ends with a very frustrated Mozart exclaiming, “Who the f*ck was that?” a laugh-out-loud moment and well-placed F-bomb (the only one) in this PG-13 rated bio pic.

We then briefly learn Chevalier’s backstory, where we see his white father deposit him at a prestigious music school in France, which accepts him because even at a young age he is a brilliant violinist. The action returns to Chevalier’s adulthood, where we witness his friendship with the Queen, Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). As a champion fencer, violinist, and composer, Chevalier finds himself in the Queen’s favor and their friendship flourishes. Chevalier sets his sights on becoming the next director of the Paris Opera, and he challenges his main competition to a contest: they both will write an opera, and the one whose work is judged the best will become the next director.

For his opera, Chevalier attempts to hire Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving) for his lead actress and singer, but her husband, the cruel Marquis De Montalembert (Marton Csokas) refuses to allow his wife to appear on stage. However, Marie-Josephine tells Chevalier that she will do it anyway, that her husband will be out of the country for a year, and so he won’t know. Chevalier is overjoyed, and as the two work closely together, they also become attracted to each other and have an affair.

When news reaches Chevalier that his father has died, he learns that as a bastard son, his father has left him nothing, but also his mother Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo) a slave, has been granted her freedom because of his father’s death, and she comes to live with him. She warns Chevalier not to become too comfortable with his current lifestyle, because as she says these people will never completely accept him. He quickly dismisses his mother’s concerns, but it’s at this time that his entire life unravels.

In spite of winning the competition with the better judged opera, Chevalier is told that he cannot become the next director of the Paris Opera because he is a person with dark skin, and when the Marquis De Montalembert returns, he has it out with Chevalier and warns him never to see his wife again. Things grow even darker just at the French Revolution begins, and life as Chevalier knew it changes forever.

CHEVALIER is beautifully shot by director Stephen Williams, who is mostly known for his TV work, including the TV series WATCHMEN (2019) and WESTWORLD (2016-2018). Here he nicely captures the period of eighteenth century Paris with appropriate sets and costumes. He also provides some nifty camerawork. There’s one neat shot in particular where the camera begins with an exterior shot of the streets below and then retreats through a window inside an upper story apartment.

The screenplay by Stefani Robinson is a good one, as it tells yet another disturbing story about racism, as Chevalier was prevented from becoming the Paris Opera director solely because of the color of his skin. The way he is treated throughout this story is a somber reminder of why stories like Chevalier’s need to continue to be told. We sadly live in a time where it’s become acceptable to push back against stories like these, calling them propaganda or asking they not be taught in schools, actions that only justify their telling all the more. To silence stories about racism is simply more racism.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. is solid in the lead role as Chevalier. He displays charm, youthful optimism and confidence, and eventually rage and disillusionment. This is probably my favorite Harrison performance to date. I first saw Harrison in the well-made horror movie IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) where he played Joel Edgerton’s son. Harrison also played the lead role in LUCE (2019) and was part of the ensemble cast in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020). Here in CHEVALIER Harrison delivers his most captivating performance, and he trained long and hard on the violin as well, and so the scenes where he plays the violin look realistic.

I’m a fan of Samara Weaving. I love her over-the-top performances in THE BABYSITTER horror movies. She also wowed in the action horror movie READY OR NOT (2019). She had a small role in BABYLON (2022) and is also currently appearing in SCREAM VI (2023). Here in CHEVALIER, she is so very good as Marie-Josephine. Weaving plays a strong female character who refuses to be ruled by her dominating husband, and so she doesn’t hold back in her relationship with Chevalier. Their doomed relationship is one of the more tragic elements of this ultimately very sad story.

Speaking of her husband, Marton Csokas gives a subtle yet disturbing performance as Marquis De Montalembert. One of his best scenes has him quietly telling Chevalier that he is so lucky to be living in France, as in any other country in the world he’d be beaten down because of the color of his skin, the implication being that Chevalier is inferior and that he’s only allowed to do the things he’s doing because of the good graces of the French government. You just want to smack De Montalembert across the face.

Lucy Boynton makes for a spirited Marie Antoinette, going from Chevalier’s biggest fan early on to his biggest detractor when he bristles as her lack of support for his Paris Opera director bid. We just saw Boynton in the superior Netflix thriller THE PALE BLUE EYE (2022), which starred Christian Bale and Harry Melling.

Ronke Adekoluejo is very good as Chevalier’s mother, and when his life spirals out of control, she is there for him and serves to keep him inspired to push on with his life.

I also enjoyed Sian Clifford quite a bit as Madame De Genlis, who was friends with both Chevalier and Marie-Josephine and who helped Chevalier with his opera bid. Likewise, Minnie Driver excels as La Guimard, the opera singer whose advances Chevalier rejected, and so she worked hard to derail his attempts at becoming the next opera director, as she starred in the rival opera.

Overall, I enjoyed CHEVALIER quite a bit. Its story is a good one, in spite of it being depressing. It also ends on a down note, as before the end credits roll, we read that most of Chevalier’s music was destroyed years later by Napoleon Bonaparte, and so most of his work has been lost.

The film is not perfect. It’s all rather conventional and safe in its storytelling and lacks the necessary edge which this story needs. There were also more things I wanted to learn about the man, which aren’t covered in this movie—-how did he become such an accomplished violinist? What happened to him during the French Revolution? —, and there was more I wanted to know about some of the other characters as well.

But it makes its points, that racism ruined Chevalier’s life and career, that he was denied the position of Paris Opera director based solely on the color of his skin, and that the world has been largely denied his musical brilliance for no other reason except that his skin was dark.

CHEVALIER also features a confident performance by Kelvin Harrison, Jr. in the lead role, a performance that is well worth the price of admission.

I give CHEVALIER three stars.



Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line

Three and a half stars- Excellent

Three stars – Very Good

Two and a half stars – Good

Two Stars – Fair

One and a half stars – Pretty Weak

One star- Poor

Zero stars – Awful

MASTER (2022) – Horror Movie About Racism by First-Time Writer/Director Mariama Diallo is as Subtle as it is Brilliant


MASTER (2022), a new horror movie by first time writer/director Mariama Diallo, and now available on Prime Video, is GET OUT (2017) without the over-the-top horror elements thrown in at the end.

Diallo’s screenplay is subtle, deliberate, and at the end of the day, genuinely brilliant. Its point, like the actions shown in this movie, is that racism in the United States is pervasive, persistent, and so ingrained it becomes barely noticeable if you’re not paying attention, and worst of all, it’s never going to change. This final point, which is difficult to swallow, makes this movie a very uncomfortable experience. It’s also difficult to argue with the film’s main premise.

MASTER tells the story of three women of color at a prestigious New England university. There’s Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) who has just accepted the position of house master for one the dorms, meaning she’s not only a tenured professor at the school, but also an advisor and confidant to the students living in her building. She’s the first black house master, a fact she tries to play down, saying she’d rather be known as another in a long line of women house masters, but her fellow white tenured professors refuse to let her downplay the notion. Their attitude towards her, while not blatantly disrespectful, rubs her the wrong way, as she… and she can’t put her finger on it… feels at times as if she’s viewed as nothing more than a maid or a servant, and other times she feels the university only wants to celebrate her blackness because it’s good for the school to be viewed as diverse, two points that are handled honestly in Diallo’s screenplay.

Then there’s freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) who has the most difficult time of the three. She has to deal with things like a professor assuming she’s come from an underprivileged neighborhood, different attitudes shown her by the friendly black cafeteria worker who gives her the cold shoulder, as well as hate messages written on her door, and worst of all, a noose strung up inside her room. These are incidents that house master Gail takes seriously, but she can’t seem to get her fellow tenured professors to see these acts as anything more than just typical college kids’ pranks. At the end of the day, Gail advises Jasmine to stay at the school and tough things out, a decision that ends tragically, and starts Gail on a journey of self-awareness.

Then there’s the story of the witch. Evidently, the university is haunted. Years ago, a witch was hung close to the grounds of the school, and she cursed the institution, and it’s said that every few years or so she comes back to claim the life of a freshman and drag her down to hell. In fact, a girl committed suicide in the very room in which Jasmine now lives. Fellow students go full throttle in detailing this legend to Jasmine, and although they mean it as a joke, Jasmine is greatly affected by the story. As threats to her well-being mount, she can’t help but think it’s the witch coming to get her.

Lastly, there’s Professor Liv Beckman (Amber Gray) who is up for tenure but is facing stiff resistance because she hasn’t published much, and also, she is the subject of an investigation into her dealings with Jasmine, as the student has accused her of treating her unfairly. When Gail speaks supportively of Liv, she is asked if she can be impartial, a question which immediately makes Gail think the questioning professor is referring to the fact that both women are black. She asks the professor directly what she means, and the woman answers she meant because Gail and Liv are best friends, which is true. Gail then changes her tune and speaks more critically of Liv’s candidacy.

All three actors are excellent. Regina Hall gets the most screen time of the three as house master Gail Bishop. It’s an intriguing role, as Gail evolves as the movie goes along. She is at first happy to be house master, but as things continually get under her skin, she begins to ask questions. And after Jasmine’s plight, Gail’s eyes are opened, and she’s the character who realizes the depths of which racism exists and that it’s just not going to change.

Zoe Renee is perfect as the troubled Jasmine. Confident and brilliant at first, she is driven to doubt and despair as the events around her relentlessly poke and prod until she becomes unglued. By far, Jasmine has the saddest story arc.

Amber Gray as Liv Beckman completes the trio. Beckman wants tenure so bad she is willing to lie to get it, but the depth of that lie is misunderstood by Gail who mistakenly believes her friend told a major untruth rather than a more subtle omission of a past life.

I would imagine that MASTER (2022) would struggle to find a large audience. Marketed as a horror movie, the horror elements, while there, in the form of the story of the witch’s curse, are downplayed and are not the main focus of the movie. MASTER works much better as a drama, and as such, soars, even though it is definitely a slow-burn story. It’s one of those movies that almost doesn’t work until the end credits roll, and then you look back and think about what you just saw, and you get it.

So, the true star of MASTER is writer/director Mariama Diallo. The script is quietly masterful. The best part is that the characterizations and situations never go over the top, become cliche, or even all that clear. Diallo makes it so the audience, like main character Gail, feels that something isn’t quite right, that somehow things are off, and yet we just can’t put our finger on what that something is. But it’s racism. And it’s not the in-your-face KKK racism of the deep South, but the quiet nuanced racism of the so-called progressive side of society, folks who say they support diversity, but what they say and do is a different matter. A phrase here, a gesture there, an assumption over there, things that normally aren’t associated with racism but at the end of the day are still attitudes which divide over race.

I thought the screenplay was brilliant. By the time the end credits rolled, I realized I had just watched a movie that while it’s not without flaws was able to say something poignant about race without being overhanded or trite.

And if its premise is accepted as true, then the story told in MASTER is certainly a horror tale for our time.


GREEN BOOK (2018) – Oscar Contender Worth A Trip to the Theater



It took a while for GREEN BOOK (2018) to make it to the theaters in my neck of the woods, and so I was only able to see it recently.

This Oscar contender, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay is both worthy of these nominations and a trip to the theater. Had I seen this movie before I had comprised my List of Top 10 movies for 2018, it most certainly would have made the cut.

GREEN BOOK (2018), based on a true story, takes place in 1962 and chronicles the unlikely friendship between an eccentric African-American classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and a rough and tough Italian bouncer from Brooklyn, Tony LIp (Viggo Mortensen) who are brought together when Shirley hires Tony to be his personal driver on a concert tour which will take him into the Deep South.

In terms of story construct, the one told in GREEN BOOK is one you’ve seen many times before. Yes, it’s a “buddy story,” that plot where two very different characters spend time together, especially on the road, and eventually they form an unlikely friendship.  It’s been done a million times, from classics back in the day like MIDNIGHT RUN (1988) and PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987) to more recent fare like DUE DATE (2010) and THE HEAT (2013).

But what makes GREEN BOOK different and a cut above the standard “buddy movie” is its dueling themes of racism and racial acceptance.

Shirley’s concert tour is bringing him to the Deep South, as far as Mississippi, not a safe place for a black man in 1962. And that’s where the titular “Green Book” comes in, as it refers to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a publication which listed places which were safe for blacks to visit. Hence, on the road in the south, Shirley and Tony stay at separate hotels, as Shirley has to stay at hotels which accept Negroes, and these are usually poor decrepit places.

And when Shirley is performing inside the elegant establishments of the wealthy white audiences, who give him rousing applause, he is not allowed to use the bathroom inside these places, nor can he dine there.

Tony Lip, while not from the south, initially holds views that are just as racist. He and his fellow Bronx Italians use racial slurs when speaking of blacks, and when his wife hires two black repairmen, and Tony observes  her giving them something to drink after they’ve finished their job, he takes the empty glasses they drank from and tosses them into the trash.

Yet, when asked by Shirley if he would have trouble working for a black man, Tony says no, and since Tony is a man of his word, it turns out to be true, and as the story goes along, and he observes the way Shirley is treated, he becomes more and more protective of his employer.

The story also takes things a step further. Don Shirley is a man alone. He’s wealthy and educated, and he doesn’t identify with what he sees as his fellow black brethren. He’s more similar in class to the wealthy whites he plays music for, but he certainly doesn’t identify with them.  And then there’s his sexual orientation. By all accounts, Shirley is alone and he’s miserable, and in one of the movie’s best scenes, he breaks down and laments to Tony that he hasn’t been able to find any community that wants him in it.

The script, nominated for an Oscar, by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly does a masterful job at showing not only the racism Don Shirley faced but also the pain he felt at being so isolated from seemingly all walks of life. It also makes Tony Lip the face of white acceptance. At first, Tony may have suppressed any racist feelings just so he could take the job, but later, he truly comes to like and accept Shirley as a person, and his words and actions back that up.

The script also gives Tony the best moments in the film, especially the laugh out loud ones. Indeed, why this movie is also listed as a comedy has to do entirely with Tony. He’s got the best lines in the film, such as when he tries to quote JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you—” speech, but completely botches it and finishes with “Ask what you do for yourself,” and he has the funniest scenes, like when he introduces Shirley to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The best part of the script is that none of it comes off as superficial or preachy. It makes its points on race simply by allowing its story to unfold. Likewise, the bond between Shirley and Tony is not forced or phony. It’s convincing and natural. The whole story works.

As I said, Mahershala Ali has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Don Shirley, and it’s certainly a powerful performance.

However, GREEN BOOK belongs more to Viggo Mortensen and his portrayal of Tony Lip. Tony is the larger role, and the story mainly focuses on his reaction to racism. In terms of acting, it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen Mortensen give. He plays the Bronx bouncer so effortlessly. And like Ali, Mortensen has also been nominated, for Best Actor.

GREEN BOOK has also been nominated for Best Picture, although it’s not expected to win. Of its four major nominations, according to the experts, Mahershala Ali has the best chance of winning Best Supporting Actor.

GREEN BOOK was directed by Peter Farrelly, of Farrelly Brothers fame. He successfully captures the 1962 setting. There’s a nice contrast of colors, between the bright and opulent upper class white southern establishments and the dark and dreary poverty-laden black establishments.

And one of my favorite scenes brings both worlds together, when Shirley takes Tony into a black friendly restaurant, and Shirley is invited to play piano and ends up jamming with the jazz musicians there. It’s one of the liveliest scenes in the movie, and it allows Shirley for the first time to feel some camaraderie with a culture he had thus far felt alienated from.

I really enjoyed GREEN BOOK. It has a lot to say about racism, using the south in 1962 as its canvas, and it makes its point while not always being heavy-handed. In fact, its tone is quite the opposite. For most of the movie, thanks to Viggo Mortensen’s performance as Tony Lip, you’ll be laughing. Tony is a likeable character who may not be as skilled and as polished as Dr. Don Shirley, but his heart is in the right place, as is his head. He befriends Shirley not only because he likes him but also because deep down he knows that the color of Shirley’s skin has no bearing on what kind of person he is.

GREEN BOOK is a thoroughly satisfying movie that speaks on racism and entertains at the same time. It’s not to be missed.