All Articles Tagged "gina prince bythewood"

From Still Star-Crossed To Shots Fired: Shows Featuring Black Leads To Watch This Fall

August 24th, 2016 - By Nneka Samuel
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Image: WENN

Image: WENN

Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar on OWN. Issa Rae’s Insecure on HBO. Donald Glover’s Atlanta on FX. Mike Colter starring in the Marvel comic-to-screen series Luke Cage on Netflix. We’ve already hipped you to some of the exciting new TV series making their respective debuts in the coming weeks and months on network and cable TV, as well as subscription services like Netflix. But there are other new and less talked about shows that are equally deserving of your attention. That is, if they pique your interest. You never know – one, or some of these dramas or comedies, led by and featuring Black actors, just might become your favorite. So get ready for the 2016-2017 fall TV season. From the look of things, it’s going to be a great, binge-worthy, DVR-frenzied time of year.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of Beyond The Lights

August 23rd, 2016 - By Nneka Samuel
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Poster 2

Beyond the Lights, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s fourth feature film, was released in November 2014 to critical acclaim. About a young pop star in the midst of finding herself after a suicide attempt, the film touches on everything from the way women are oversexualized in the music industry, to overbearing stage moms, and the power of young love. And while the end result makes the entire process look simple, making Beyond the Lights was anything but. The film, in fact, almost didn’t get made. Studios weren’t interested in the material and often didn’t share Bythewood’s vision. But she made it happen, and the rest, as they say, is history. Here are some secrets behind the making of Beyond the Lights.

Will “Shots Fired” And the Re-imagining Of Ferguson Work On Network Television?

May 18th, 2016 - By Charing Ball
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"Shots Fired" And the Re-imagining Of Ferguson

Source: Fox

There is a new series coming to network television, FOX, to be specific, and it has a lot of folks feeling uncomfortable right now.

And one of the folks is me.

The show is called “Shots Fired” and it is definitely doing just that. At who and what? Well now, that is the question.

Watch the trailer below:

For those with cheap data plans, here are some key points:

  • It was written by Reginald and Gina Prince-Bythewood; the latter of which wrote and directed Love & Basketball.
  • It stars Sanaa Lathan, Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss and a whole host of talented folks.
  • It’s a police drama, set in North Carolina, about two Black special investigators’ hunt for the truth after a Black cop shoots and kills an unarmed White kid.
  • In the trailer a government official, possibly the mayor of this fictitious small town, tells Tristen Perry one of the Black investigators on the case (who is played by Stephan James): “there’s been a police shooting of an unarmed man today. The governor called personally. She doesn’t want another Ferguson.”
  • To which the Black investigator responds: “All I care about is the truth. And my truth has no color.”
  • The killer Black cop is suspect as heck. Not only does he have a history of making racial charged statements against White people (i.e. being caught on video saying “I finally got a license to kill these crackers”) but he might have some involvement in the death of a Black kid too (although that part of the trailer remains unclear).
  • After a montage of what appears to be someone getting the tar beat out of them, the background piano music kicks-in and Det. Perry gives an All Lives Matter-type speech.
  • There is a scene where a bunch of grizzly faced Black men in hoodies do “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” after a White cop pushes a Black kid to the ground.
  • During another montage of various background scenes from the school, a woman asks, “All the murdering of unarmed Black men by police across this country and this is the one the government is investigating?”

That’s the same question I had for this series.

Okay I’ll admit: a huge part of me is excited about this show. For one, we get to see Prince-Bythewood and Lathan working on a project together again, which has its appeal. And for two, but more importantly, I’m messy. And this entire role-reversal of a story that could have been ripped from actual headlines looks quite messy.

If done right, it could be spectacular critique of race and power in America. But that’s if it is done right…

And that leads me to my possible issue with this series that I have not even seen yet. (See what I did there?) For one, it’s on FOX, which has a history of taking ambitious urban dramas and watering them down so thinly, they almost become comical. I’m talking about “New York Undercover.” And I’m talking about “Empire” too. (Sorry guys, but that show has lost its luster.)

And secondly, why would special investigators sent from some unnamed government agency be investigating a shooting of a White kid by a Black cop? And more importantly, why would that shooting be anything like another Ferguson? I mean, is there a historical pattern of Black cops brutalizing and falsely imprisoning White people in America? Because that’s what happened in Ferguson (and elsewhere). Mike Brown’s death was just the final straw in a long line of injustices against Black folks in America.

Whereas White people tend not to get upset over individual incidents like this – not to the point of being concerned about another Ferguson happening – mainly because there is no reason for them to not have faith in their judicial system. In fact, the last time I checked, the only thing White people will get upset and riot over, are pumpkins.

Already, the Bythewoods are asking for a suspension of belief that my mind might be incapable of making. Why, in order for that storyline to be believable, they would literally have to re-write the history of America. And I don’t know how many seasons FOX is willing to give them for that.

All of that to say, this reference, along with all of the #AllLivesMatter against the piano backdrop talk, makes me think this show might end up making my head hurt.

But like I said, I’ll probably end up watching it anyway.

Don’t Sleep: Why So-Called “Black Films” Are Doing Better Than Ever

September 9th, 2015 - By Nneka Samuel
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Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

How exactly do you define Black films?  Are they films that star a predominantly Black cast?  Must they be written by a Black scribe and feature issues pertaining to the Black experience? Are they helmed by Black directors?  Or are they a combination of all of the above?

According to Hollywood, Black films are very much a genre catered to Black people, seen by Black people and therefore not relatable or appealing to a non-Black audience.  They are also deemed difficult to market, both at home and overseas, despite evidence of the contrary.  Above all else, there’s still the thinking that Black films are subpar or niche.  Hence the surprise when a film like Straight Outta Compton does well at the box office, earning over $60 million in its first weekend and owning the #1 slot for weeks on end.  The N.W.A. biopic has been so successful that there’s already talk of a sequel titled Welcome to Death Row.

In typical Hollywood fashion, executives and studios jump on the bandwagon after something has proven financially viable.  Yet with regards to films with predominantly Black casts, low expectations are the norm and Hollywood on the whole fails to see the potential in them from the start.  It’s part of the reason why Beyond The Lights writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood is not a fan of the term “Black film.” On Twitter, she recently voiced her opinion about how her aforementioned movie is currently streaming on Netflix.  It was forced by Netflix’s “more like this” algorithms into a category that failed to associate it with similar romantic dramas.  Instead, Beyond The Lights was grouped with films featuring majority Black casts, movies that weren’t relatable to the love story and music elements expressed therewithin.

Instead of recognizing the universal human experience in so-called Black films, these films are also treated as one-off trends when they perform well, are written well, and are well acted.  Remember The Best Man Holiday?  The media went wild after the “race film” brought in beaucoup bucks.  The same can be said in television for shows like the newly-released The Carmichael Show or Empire, also deemed a wildly “surprising” success.  But films and television shows with majority Black casts aren’t a trend.  They reflect the diversity that exists in this country and offer storylines that are ironically more inclusive than what we normally see on our screens.  And audiences are clearly hungry for them.

This sort of trend thinking also explains why the industry has certain exceptions.  Films with Black leads supposedly don’t perform well overseas, but that’s not the case if they star Denzel Washington or Will Smith.  They are the un-Black Black actors.  Audiences worldwide can look past their color and see them as the characters they portray.  But if you ask Sony executives, it’s the foreign audiences that are racist.  There was fear that The Equalizer wouldn’t perform well in foreign countries because of Washington’s blackness, yet the film grossed $192 million worldwide.  About 47 percent of that money came from overseas (and execs thought this number would be higher if Denzel had not been cast.)  See the conundrum?  Nobody knows anything.  The Hollywood film industry will continue to be surprised if they put such little faith and support in films with Black leads or majority Black casts.

Continuing with the built-in assumptions about films with Black casts, there’s an assumption that these films are exclusively about race.  And apparently, people don’t want to see race portrayed on film unless, of course, the diegesis pertains to a certain era.  It seems that films about slavery and the Civil Rights movement have less difficulty being greenlit and are expected to be supported by audiences once released.  It’s a sentiment that Actor David Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Ava DuVernay-directed film Selma, shared in an interview at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. “Generally speaking,” said Oyelowo, “we as Black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being in the center of our own narrative, driving it forward.”  Which might explain why it took decades to get a feature film about Dr. King made.  And if you remember, Oyelowo’s performance in Selma was not nominated for an Oscar.  DuVernay did not receive a nomination either for Best Director, despite the fact that her film was nominated for Best Picture.  And there are numerous examples from recent years (12 Years a Slave, The Help, etc.) that support Oyelowo’s comments.  Sometimes Blackness is deemed more acceptable on film if our experiences as Black people are limited to the periods in history, or stereotypes for that matter, that non-Blacks equate with us.  Films that safely distance us from our sordid past are heralded as reminders of how far we’ve come.

Clearly, there’s not only a hunger but a lasting need for content with leads and casts who happen to be Black.  There are so many untold stories about historical and fictional characters alike that have yet to grace our screens.  For an industry that spends millions on research and marketing alone, you would think that the movie industry would be a lot more “woke” and less surprised when so-called “Black films” exceed their limited perceptions and expectations. The lesson?  Stop underestimating audiences and the content with Black leads and majority Black casts.

Netflix Discriminates? “Beyond The Lights” Director Complains Site Groups Her Movies In Strictly Black Categories

August 7th, 2015 - By Chelcee Johns
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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 20: Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood arrives at ELLE's 21st Annual Women In Hollywood at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 20, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Iconic director of Love & Basketball and the woman who brought us the moving millennial romance Beyond The Lights, Gina Prince-Bythewood, says Netflix’s movie categories are racially biased.

The romance film director recently went on the popular video streaming site and noticed the “more like this” section attached to her most recent film Beyond The Lights only included black TV shows and movies. The list included series such as A Different World, Being Mary Jane and movie Pastor Brown.

Bythewood felt there was a flaw in Netflix’s grouping that decided to keep her film only amongst other black movies. Beyond The Lights is described as a romantic drama featuring a professional pop singer and her bodyguard. On her twitter account, Bythewood stated other romantic films should have been in the listings, not just black ones.

As Bythewood’s frustrations began to circulate around the web, she made sure to note (via Twitter) her focus wasn’t just on her film but other black flims as well. The director noticed the same pattern for films such as Fruitvale Station, Middle of Nowhere and Mister & Pete.

It is no surprise that African Americans in Hollywood often face discrimination and are often grouped to only fit one audience. However, yesterday, Netflix gave Bythewood a ring to explain their algorithm and report they are up to no such thing.

The creative’s last tweet regarding Netflix read, “Most folks in his position would not take the time to reach out. Good look.”

While I am relieved to know Netflix is not intentionally up to no good (wasn’t ready to boycott them just yet), I do wonder why it has to be such a bad thing to appeal to a mostly black audience. Yes, their algorithm should not place films by race but include a vast array within the same genre. However, sometimes I think we (African American creators) try to appeal to an audience that often are not interested in being involved with our stories in the first place.

Does that mean we stop hoping to appeal to the masses? Certainly not, but maybe it does mean we stop putting so much pressure on gaining a diverse audience.

I know directors, and artists in general, want a large amount of people to view their work ($$$), but are we trying too hard to create a one-bill-fits-all approach? This may not be the case with Bythewood (I love her), but it feels like a struggle for all African American producers (films, books, etc.) vying for both a black and white viewership.



Beyond The Oscars: Black Filmmakers Discuss The Struggle To Get Their Movies Made

March 3rd, 2015 - By Tonya Garcia
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Brian To/

Brian To/

Just this weekend, Will Smith sat atop the box office once again with his latest film Focus. For audiences, seeing a Will Smith film struggle is stranger than seeing it succeed. But he’s an anomaly among Blacks in Hollywood. More often, it takes a lot of toil and sweat for Black filmmakers to get their work made and in front of audiences.

“I remember last year feeling hopeful that we had seen so many filmmakers and diversity of product,” Malcolm Lee, director of the popular Best Man films told MadameNoire in a phone interview. A third Best Man film is in the works. “There’s progress there, but I’m kind of in a holding pattern.”

We spoke with Lee before the Oscars. Since then, many people both in the film industry and outside of it have expressed their shock and dismay about the notable lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. Most, including Lee, had hoped that after Fruitvale Station,  12 Years a Slave, The Best Man Holiday and other films had gained widespread acclaim and raked in lots of money, we would be seeing more diverse faces on red carpets for awards ceremonies and premieres. But in a lot of ways, the struggle continues.

Across the board among the filmmakers we spoke with for this story, there was one word that kept coming up: “perseverance.” To get their work made, funded and in front of audiences requires a passion for film and the will to tell their stories.

JLN Photography/

JLN Photography/

“I had a desire to see people who were a reflection of me, my friends, people I went to school with reflected on screen,” Lee told us. The industry, he says, still sees Black films as a “niche market” that will only appeal to a domestic audience. News today is that, for the first time in February, the box office receipts in China exceeded the US with $650 million. If movies with Black casts and Black filmmakers don’t make big bucks with these overseas audiences, this belief in “niche markets” will no doubt be bolstered. Of course, you have to get your movie made and in front of audiences before you can determine whether it’s going to go over well.

“Will Smith worked diligently to make himself a star,” Lee continued, noting that the Fresh Prince traveled around the world to become a global name. The only other names that might be recognized in that way are Denzel Washington (despite what the folks at Sony said in their emails) and Kevin Hart. But many filmmakers want to create the movies they have in mind, and that might not be an action film or a comedy or something of similar mass appeal with an actor that has a huge name. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that. But there should be room for a variety of voices.

“Quality has to be more important than quantity,” Lee said. “It’s all about the story you want to tell. It can’t be about making money or getting famous.”

Datari Turner is an independent filmmaker known for microbudget films, movies that cost less than $1 million to make. By Hollywood standards, this is pocket change. Back in September 2014, Turner signed a deal with Codeblack Films to distribute his films across the US and Canada. He’s worked with talent from across the spectrum, from James Franco to Common to Demi Moore to Megan Goode. He’s also created work for television networks including BET, TV One, WE and Oxygen.

“The thing that’s changed in the last six or seven years is the international market accounts for 80 percent of Hollywood profits,” he told us in a phone conversation. However, there aren’t people on the ground overseas to push Black movies. And when it takes millions of dollars to get a movie into theaters, there needs to be a large return in order to justify the investment.

Still, Turner says this is a great time to be a filmmaker because even the big names are willing to take less money in order to work on projects they have a penchant for. Add to that the access to audiences and Hollywood big wigs that’s afforded by the robust festival landscape. Toronto, Cannes, Sundance, Palm Springs, Berlin. These are just some of the hundreds of film festivals that are frequented by fans and production companies.

And then you have new technology, like Netflix streaming and on-demand services that bring movies big and small to moviegoers who don’t even have to leave the house.

So making an independent movie is an option. But a tight budget is a hindrance.

“The hardest thing to do is produce a microbudget film. There’s no room for error,” Turner continues. “You can’t just throw money at it to fix a problem.”

A scene from Roubado

A scene from Roubado

With microbudget success under his belt, Turner says he would love to work with a big budget and big names. Erica Watson, who’s now making the rounds with her short film “Roubado” used Kickstarter to fund her film. Her $500,000 camera was donated. What she’s got plenty of is faith.

“My dad says, ‘When you have to start a race in second place, you have to run twice as fast,’” she told us. “If you’re excellent, I believe no one can deny you.” Though she’s starting to make the rounds at film festivals now, she’s adamant that she doesn’t need them “to be validated.” Rather, she’s more concerned with getting her vision out there.
“The issue is being able to tell diverse stories without having characters that need to fit into a certain mold,” Watson continued. Her movie is about a teenage Afro-Portuguese boy living in the south of France who sees the world through the lens of his camera.

But not every film has to go abroad to find its compelling protagonist. Gina Prince-Bythewood, the filmmaker and screenwriter behind Love and Basketball, received heaps of praise for last year’s Beyond the Lights (now available on DVD). Despite the positive reception, the film didn’t bring in the box office numbers.

“I think it was perception. We’re still fighting the perception that our films are less than,” she told MadameNoire in a phone interview. But aside from that perception, Prince-Bythewood also says she thinks her film fell victim to marketing deficiencies.

“It’s going to take us filmmakers being more involved in the marketing and publicity,” she continued. “Who knows your film better than you?”

Prince-Bythewood herself wrote an open letter advocating for her film, saying:

I feel what’s discriminated against are my choices, which is to focus on people of color as real people. Those are the films that rarely get made and those are the films that take a lot more fight.  But I’m up for the fight, because if we don’t fight for this we stay invisible.

By the time word began to spread that this was a film that everyone should be interested in, Prince-Bythewood says it was too late.

Which brings us back to the Oscars. Beyond the Lights was nominated for the song “Grateful” in the Best Original Song category alongside the winner, “Glory” by Common and John Legend for Selma.

“Early on, there are these films that are considered Oscar worthy and those films persist to the end of the game,” Prince-Bythewood said.

Indeed the buzz around movies like Birdman and Boyhood had been there for a long time. But just like a great movie that has intricate twists and turns, the Oscars needs to be more flexible and, ultimately, more open-minded to what resonates with audiences. Moreover, the Academy must better acknowledge the different points of view putting out work in the world of film.

“The African-American consumer wields tremendous cultural influence,” wrote Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, the Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement for Nielsen. “African-Americans watch 40 percent more television than any other group, have a $1.1 trillion buying power, and 73 percent of Whites and 67 percent of Hispanics believe Blacks influence mainstream culture.”

The beauty of filmmaking, at its core, is the ability to tell a story visually. There are as many stories in the world as there are people. Black filmmakers have made it clear that they won’t be silenced.


And for more on Black filmmakers in Hollywood, be sure to tune in to Cafe Mocha Radio this weekend when guest Cocoa Brown of “For Better or Worse” will talk about being a plus-sized girl in Hollywood. And right now, there’s more from Mo’Nique and her husband on the Cafe Mocha website.

Beyond The Lights And More Romantic And Relatable Black Love Films

November 14th, 2014 - By Deron Dalton
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Beyond the Lights opens up in theaters today. And the Black love story is from the writer and director of Love & Basketball, Gina Prince-Bythewood. MadameNoire can’t help, but get gooey-eyed as we recap the most romantic and realest Black love films of all time.

Romantic And Relatable Black Love Films

Source: Relativity Media

Beyond the Lights

R&B/pop superstar Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is struggling with superstardom and not having a voice or say in her career. She tries to take her life until a cop named Kaz (Nate Parker) stops her and helps her find her voice — while they fall in love with each other. Mbatha-Raw’s role was inspired clearly by pop stars like Rihanna and her performance received positive reviews after garnering excellent reviews earlier this year for Belle. This film is quite the love story to go see.



Gina Prince Bythewood Reveals Her Birth Story Inspired “Beyond The Lights”

November 4th, 2014 - By Brande Victorian
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We’ve loved Gina Prince Bythewood since 2000 because she brought us one of our favorite movies of all time, “Love & Basketball.” Now the writer is back with another film that we’re sure will be a classic as well, and this time around the story is much more personal. “Beyond The Lights,” starring Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, hits theaters next Friday, November 14, and when we chatted with Bythewood about what it took to make the movie she told us it actually was inspired by her birth story which wasn’t a very pleasant one at all. Check out our inspirational chat with Bythewood in the video above, as she talks about making Hollywood execs see her vision for this film and refusing to take no for an answer.


“Beyond The Lights” Star Nate Parker Speaks On Ray Rice, The NFL And The Way Black Men Are Portrayed In The Media

September 23rd, 2014 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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We can’t even begin to tell you how excited we are about Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new film Beyond The Lights starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker. We checked out an early screening of the movie at the Urbanworld Film Festival last week and we were quite blown away. So when we had the chance to sit down with Parker, we had a lot of questions about the movie, but we also wanted to pick his brain about everything going on in the news since he’s passionate about everything going on in black culture. Parker gave his thoughts on Ray Rice, the way Rice has been “thrown away” by the NFL, the light his story shed on domestic violence and mental health, and the way black men are portrayed in the media in general.

Check out what he had to say (more videos will come out as the release date is closer), and be sure to go see Beyond The Lights when it is released on November 14.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood And Actor Omar Epps Respond To Rumors Of A Love & Basketball 2

September 18th, 2014 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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Love & Basketball 2

So who’s ready for a Love & Basketball sequel!?

Well, you’re not getting it so you’ll have to have a seat.

A picture was floating around yesterday of Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan cheesing it up on a poster for Love & Basketball 2, which according to said poster, was scheduled to be released on Valentine’s Day of next year. And of course, this poster made the rounds and had any and everyone who enjoyed the first movie losing their mind on Twitter:

“The fact that they are making a Love and Basketball 2 makes me extremely happy”

“LOVE AND BASKETBALL 2?! This better be real!”

But others felt a sequel wasn’t necessary:

“I hope they don’t ruin it, they should leave love and basketball 1 itself we dnt want a part 2”

“Why would they make a Love and Basketball 2??? What Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan gone do? Be coaches???”

But according to the film’s star and director, Omar Epps and Gina Prince-Bythewood (who is currently promoting her new film Beyond The Lights), they say that unlike a lot of the ’90s movies out here being revamped, a sequel is not in the works for this beloved film.


Omar Epps





Gina II


But would you have liked to see a sequel to this one or is the story best left as is?