Kelvin Harrison Jr. (left) and Minnie Driver (right) star in “Chevalier” (Photo Credit: Larry Horricks/Searchlight Pictures).
(“Chevalier” trailer courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Black people’s success in classical music does not receive much coverage in Regal Mag.
Sure, crossover classical musician Alexis Ffrench is holding it down in modern classical music.
But “Chevalier” shows how far Black excellence goes back when it comes to classical music, and how the same racism that plagues the world today has kept many of their stories out of the history books.
In “Chevalier,” Young Joseph Bologne is a special child in an era in which many people are not ready for his uniqueness.
Because he has a Black mother and he lives in 1700s France, Joseph is born enslaved despite his intelligence, musical talents and wealthy White father.
Although his son is born enslaved, Joseph’s father knows that the plantation is no place for a child with such gifts.
Therefore, he enrolls his son in a prestigious boarding school for gifted kids.
But unlike many other fathers possibly, Joseph’s White father drops his mixed-race son off at the school and abandons him.
He wants his son’s talents to be nurtured.
However, he does not necessarily want his bastard Black son in his presence.
But in the 1700s and even today, mixed race children often deal with isolation and not fitting in.
Some mixed-race kids say they are not Black enough for the Black community and not White enough for the White community.
But what happens when a mixed-race boy attends an all-White private school at a time when most of his Black peers are still in bondage?
In “Chevalier,” Joseph does not fit in with his classmates because of racial and cultural differences.
Likewise, Joseph does not fit in with his Black peers because of cultural differences as well as socioeconomic and educational differences.
While many might recoil and become a recluse, Joseph becomes the opposite because of his innate talents with the violin and his acquired talent in fencing.
When Joseph’s fencing impresses French royalty, he graduates from just being a “mulatto” to the country’s chevalier, which has many perks that Joseph (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) definitely takes advantage of.
High society White women swoon for the chevalier.
Queen Marie Antoinette is a close, personal friend of Joseph.
And he is close friends with other members of the royal family.
With that type of lifestyle, it might become easy for Joseph to forget from whence he came.
In “Chevalier,” Joseph has “arrived.”
Therefore, he sees no reason why the world should not be his oyster.
However, when he sets his sights too high and locks eyes with the wrong woman, he might quickly learn what his mother tries to teach home.
In “Chevalier,” his mother attempts to teach Joseph that he is not accepted in elite White society like he believes.
Joseph’s mother warns him that he is just a guest in their home and not a real family member or resident.
But when the grits hit the pan in “Chevalier” what will Joseph do?
Will he humble himself to the White powers that be?
Or will he fight for the have nots against a government intent on maintaining the status quo?
“Chevalier” is the perfect movie for the times.
Timing is everything in life.
At a time of such political and racial turbulence, “Chevalier” is a microcosm of modern America despite the movie’s European setting.
True history is brutal when it comes to slavery, oppression, discrimination and White supremacy.
To protect White fragility, much of what happened to Black people across the globe has been whitewashed to appease the feelings of some White people who find it difficult to digest what their ancestors did to a race a people just to prop themselves up.
At the conclusion of “Chevalier,” moviegoers will learn how racism erased all of Joseph’s accomplishments as if his struggle did not happen.
Like many social activists or race men, his story got ignored for generations because it possibly did not fit the narrative that European historians and politicians wanted to portray about race relations.
But what the history books will not teach, courageous artists like filmmakers have often worked to fill the void left by those with an agenda.
Many films that depict Black people from previous centuries often paint them as brutes, dummies or completely subservient to the White power structure.
In “Chevalier,” Joseph is the total opposite of that stereotype.
He is sure of himself, and he does not care who he offends.
In “Chevalier,” Joseph dates who he wants.
He goes after the jobs or titles that he thinks he deserves.
And he stands up to those with the most power, regardless of the potential circumstances.
Furthermore, Harrison portrays Joseph with the grace, intelligence and class that represents Black excellence long before Black Hollywood coined the term.
Joseph is unapologetically himself and that has never been safe for a Black man.
In that light, “Chevalier” is almost like a cautionary tale that seems to have been relevant for many centuries.
No matter what a Black person accomplishes, to paraphrase rapper Willie D of the Geto Boys from 1992, they’re still an N-word.
Unfortunately, “Chevalier” does drag a bit at times.
Additionally, “Chevalier” might not be many people’s cup of tea with its emphasis on classical music and fencing.
Nevertheless, the theme is something that many in the Black diaspora will relate to.
And that is no matter what many Black people accomplish, they cannot outrun the ignorance of others.
Furthermore, many of their accomplishments will be diminished to please mainstream society and the White power structure.