Gina Prince-Bythewood’s career can be defined by two things – an uncanny ability to take the personal and that make it profoundly accessible, and a desire to bring Black stories, Black performers, and Black filmmakers to the big screen. And in the two decades she’s been working in the industry, she’s left an indelible mark (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights), one perfectly suited to our Black Love Through a Black Lens series, presenting her debut film, Love & Basketball, as part of our Black History Month programming.
Her ability to mine the personal should come as no surprise – after all, this is a filmmaker who was able to take her athletic background (recruited as a college basketball player before committing to the UCLA film program) and spin it into the classic Love & Basketball (did we mention that you can see it this Thursday?). It’s the same filmmaker who was able to layer in her experiences of adoption into the background of the main character in Beyond the Lights. As she herself has said “I need the personal. I get bored without it.” Her characters, always fully realized and striving towards self-discovery (a recurring theme are strong Black women who seek out personal and professional success, refusing to sacrifice one for the other), ensure that you’ll never get bored as an audience member.
It’s difficult to stay true to these goals in an industry that struggles to support original voices and diversity, as evidenced by only four completed feature films over the course of two decades (“I get offered a ton of stuff and if I wanted to get work all the time I could. But I like to direct what I've written.”). But as she herself has stated, “It is exhausting, but I have to protect my vision and my voice. If I get a note on my script or my films, what I say to a studio executive is that, "You know this is the film of my legacy and I never want to be sitting in a theater looking up on the screen and seeing something that I don't believe in." I will never do that.” That commitment to her values is what makes each of her films uniquely resonant and emotionally rich experiences, and we are all the better for them.