Nate Parker: ‘It always bothers me when people say they don’t see race’

LOS ANGELES – In “Beyond the Lights,” actor Nate Parker plays Kaz, a police officer who's aspiring to become a politician, who gets caught up in a love affair with a rising-star singer, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The repercussions of their romance has a massive implications on both their careers, so stakes are high.

That doesn't mean Kaz doesn't get to have a little fun. He takes on a New Edition song in a karaoke scene, for instance.

“I'm open to record contracts…” Parker smiled during our recent interview promoting “Beyond the Lights.”

But the “Secret Life of Bees” co-star knows he is also fulfilling a position that bears some responsibility, to what he calls “honesty” as an artist and to roles based partly in the color of his skin.

“It always bothers me when people say they don't see race. If you cant be honest about what you see, then you cant identify struggles in what you see, and you can't create solutions to what you see. So in a film like this — where so many images outside of this film of black men have a negative connotation, or the things in our media or music perpetuate things that are less than accurate sometimes, considering the whole —  I think its important to have a character like Kaz [who's] unapologetic about his integrity, about how he treats women, about how he treats his job as a member of law enforcement,” he said.

“It's important that we step into that responsibility as filmmakers to project images that counteract the negative and sensationalized images.”

“Beyond the Lights” not only aspired to bring an authenticity to its actors of color, but a representation of what it is to be in the singing spotlight. Parker worked the Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys on “Bees,” so he had real-life, first-hand and day-to-day experiences with artists who frequently deal with issues of public and private identity and the pressure to sex-up their artform.

“I think just being an artist and being surrounded by artists… changes your perspective. Its not so much a brand as it is a person. You realize they're just people,” he said. “They struggle with identity… deal with hyper-sexualization and have an opinion on that and how it affect your career.”

Watch the rest of our interview above, which includes what Parker's actual karaoke jam is.

“Beyond the Lights” is in theaters today (Nov. 14).