New To Gina Prince-Bythewood? We Pick Her Top 5 Movies
Gina Prince-Bythewood is a force, and I wish I heard her name more, but perhaps that’s how she prefers it? Perhaps, leaving the notoriety on the table and letting her fantastic works speak for themselves is a part of her playbook. If you’re not familiar with the name, I’m sure you’re familiar with her tour de force – Love & Basketball – one of the best black romance films ever made. Looking past just the genre, Gina recently made critical waves with her latest Netflix film – Old Guard –, a big blockbuster action film that starred Charlize Theron. Her branching out to more mainstream/mass audiences is exciting to witness.
Her next movie, The Woman King, will feature an all-star cast with Viola Davis as a lead. The film will be a historical epic inspired by actual events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. The story follows Nanisca, general of the all-female military unit, and Nawi, an ambitious recruit, who together fought enemies who violated their honour, enslaved their people, and threatened to destroy everything they’ve lived for. Viola Davis is also joined by Thuso Mbedu, a newcomer who is currently blowing minds with her performance in Barry Jenkins’ Underground Railway.
With the excitement around “Woman King”, we thought it would be fun to introduce or re-introduce Gina to new fans, with a pick of our five favourite movies of hers.
Old Guard was Prince-Bythewood’s last film, and it is on Netflix right now. With a budget of 70 million, Prince-Bythewood became the first black woman to direct a big-budget comic book film. Netflix rarely reports on the performance of their content, but with Old Guard, they mentioned that it was on pace to be viewed by 72 million households over its first four weeks and among the top 10 most successful original launches in the platform’s history. The film is about a group of mercenaries who are all centuries-old immortals with the ability to heal themselves. As they discover someone is onto their secret, they must fight to protect their freedom.
Love & Basketball
Love & Basketball is what Prince-Bythewood is probably most known for, and that is for a good reason. The film tells the story of Quincy McCall (Epps) and Monica Wright (Lathan), two next-door neighbours in Los Angeles, California, who are pursuing their respective basketball careers. Eventually, they fall for each other. On the surface, it’s a simple love story, but when dug deeper, it examines the double standards of gender roles through basketball careers (NBA vs WNBA). It’s a romance story first and an excellent analysis of patriarchy and great subversion for the climax/finale.
Secret Life of Bees
Secret Life of Bees is what a studio ghibli film would look like if it were live-action with a cast of strong black women. The lead is Dakota Fanning. However, the real shining lights are Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, and Alicia Keys as the Boatwright sisters, and Jennifer Hudson as the lead’s companion, Rosaleen Daise. I enjoyed this film quite a bit, and it harks back to the feel-good/almost magical films of the 90s like Corrina, Corrina or Little Princess.
Beyond the Lights
Beyond the Lights is Prince-Bythewood in her proper form, crafting a story about genuine love but through the lens of Superstardom. The film tells the story of Noni, a promising young artist dealing with the pressures of fame, which at one point leads to attempted suicide. But Noni meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be. In an interview Gina did with Vulture, she explains that she was inspired by Alicia Keys’ song Diary, which makes a whole lot of sense after watching the film. The film was released in 2014 and starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Minnie Driver, Nate Parker, Danny Glover, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly.
Disappearing Acts is an HBO original film that matches up heavy weights Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan in a love story of opposites. This matchup alone was enough to sell me. The movie was released in 2000, at the height of Wesley’s action flick period, so it was nice to see him in a more light-hearted way, showing vulnerability. It’s a tremendous intimate film with fun performances, and it was also a nice trip to visit black New York in 2000.