Beyond Visible: Gina Prince-Bythewood on the Necessity of Black Women’s Cinema

Beyond Visible: Gina Prince-Bythewood on the Necessity of Black Women’s Cinema

The Criterion Collection

Rebecca Carroll

There is a gloriously unaffected vibe about Gina Prince-Bythewood. Cerebral and sublime, casually beautiful and laser-focused, she has written and directed impressive television and film for the past twenty-plus years with equal parts rigor and joy. And she has achieved all this without losing her sense of self as a Black woman in America, and while continuing to fight to get personal projects made in Hollywood.

Prince-Bythewood has recently reached new heights by becoming the first Black woman to direct a major comic-book movie. That film—The Old Guard, starring KiKi Layne and Charlize Theron—premiered on Netflix in the summer of 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, to widely favorable reviews. Prince-Bythewood, though, is still best known for writing and directing her 2001 feature debut, Love & Basketball, which tells the indelibly original story of a young Black woman ballplayer. The film is not just a love letter to basketball but a paean to the complexity, ambition, and perseverance of Black womanhood. After writing for shows like A Different World and Felicity, Prince-Bythewood went on to direct for TV, including episodes of Girlfriends and Everybody Hates Chris. She returned to the big screen in 2008 with The Secret Life of Bees, and again in 2014 with Beyond the Lights, which is when we first met.

I had known and admired Gina’s work; I don’t know a single Black woman who did not obsess over the love scene in Love & Basketball set to Maxwell’sThis Woman’s Work.” But Beyond the Lights, from the opening scene, hit different. Here was the story of a young Black girl with a white mother who couldn’t see her daughter outside of her own white gaze. It echoed my own experience. I reviewed the film for an online blog and then requested an interview with Gina, which very quickly turned into a conversation that felt uncannily familiar. We were born within a month of each other, in 1969, and were both adopted into white families three weeks after being born. We had both spent our youth navigating all-white environments, desperately in search of a reflection of ourselves. We both turned to storytelling as a career path and a way to make sense of that experience.

Gina has written herself into the narrative—in the movies she’s brought to the screen, the family she’s made, and the world she’s created around her. In celebration of the new Criterion edition of Love & Basketball, we got together to catch up, reflect, and get into it…

Read the entire interview here.

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