Sunrise Meets Sunset
Makenna Guyler, 2022
📷 : Used with permission, Aram Atkinson
Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects
Thought-provoking movies and TV shows
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” (Victor Hugo, early 19th century)
Centering around a small, predominantly Black British jazz group, Sunrise Meets Sunset takes place during a time of racial civil unrest in 1960s London. The outside forces spill over into the group and risk tearing apart the members’ potentially promising musical careers. Starring Durassie Kiangangu as Ray (Imperial Blue, False Men) and Sanchez Brown as Nile (Game Over, Malachi), the film brings the outside turmoil up-close and personal when Ray arrives late to a rehearsal badly beaten and bruised on the day of a show.
With telling dialog and footage, Sunrise Meets Sunset parallels the same historical period in the United States where, like the UK, it was in a battle over the struggle for civil rights and racial justice. The story brings to mind the film Green Book, based on the life of piano virtuoso Dr. Donald Shirley. With Mahershala Ali in the titled role, the movie depicts the high level of disruption to Dr. Shirley’s routine and badly needed rest as he travels the Deep South during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. Black people, including famous artists, were not permitted to stay in some hotels or eat in upscale restaurants. This widespread discrimination forced them to drive extra hours to find accommodations listed in what was known as “The Green Book,” a guide to establishments for Black people.
Ray and Miles Ahead are two additional movies that come to mind. In the former, Ray Charles arrives in Georgia for a performance and suddenly cancels, stating that it is wrong to play to segregated audiences. A story about Miles Davis, Miles Ahead does not contain scenes from the South, but it does depict the actual event of the artist’s beating and arrest by New York City police in 1959 for standing in front of the jazz club where he was performing. So, despite their celebrity, wealth, and musical talents, Black artists did not escape the touch of racism during that tumultuous period.
Although only seven minutes, Sunrise Meets Sunset poignantly displays the frustration among band members and the enormous degree to which racial strife weighs on them, both individually and as a group. Some may ask how artists endured given these pressures, how the show went on. My response is that we will never know the count of those who cut short their musical careers because the stress took such a toll on their lives. For the ones we do know about (i.e. Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, B. B. King, and others), we can only surmise that they persisted because they loved bringing their music to us more than they could tolerate the often brutal treatment of authorities and the disrespect of proprietors in the ”hospitality” industry. Perhaps it is this resolve that explains what is meant by music being a gift from the heart and of the soul. And oh, what a gift it is!