All Articles Tagged "gina prince bythewood"

Beyond The Oscars: Black Filmmakers Discuss The Struggle To Get Their Movies Made & In Front Of Audiences

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?

From The Writer & Director Of “Love And Basketball”, New Film “Beyond The Lights”

June 27th, 2014 - By Veronica Wells
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Source: Suzanne Tenner

Source: Suzanne Tenner

Get excited ladies and gentlemen. It’s no secret that there is a constant struggle to get quality films starring black actors to the big screen. But there’s good news. Writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, known for Love and Basketball, Disappearing Acts and Secret Life of Bees, is bringing you a new project called Beyond the Lights.

The film, originally titled Blackbird, will star a few of our favorites including Nate Parker and the rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Here’s the synopsis:

[Beyond the Lights] is the story of Noni Jean, a hot new artist who has just won a Grammy and is primed for stardom. But the pressures of success compel her to nearly end her life until she is saved by a young police officer. They fall hard for each other, despite the protests of their parents who want each to focus on their own career ambitions. But he might be the missing piece to unlock her artistic potential. 

The film also stars Danny Glover and Minnie Driver as Gugu’s mother.

The film backed by Relativity Media and BET is scheduled to be released November 14, 2014. Afterward, it’ll have an exclusive television premiere in the U.S. and South Africa on BET.

According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the inspiration for the film came when Prince-Bythewood was listening to Alicia Keys perform “Diary” in 2007. She spent years developing the film, fighting with the studio to cast the right leading actress.

She told EW, “The studios wanted a big star, and I wanted the right person for the role.”

Prince-Bythewood ended up hiring her own casting agent to do the job properly.

“There is an innate vulnerability in Gugu. And you can sense her star power. That’s what we needed to believe–that she could be Rihanna or Beyoncé.”

Still Sony wasn’t convinced and Prince-Bythewood took matters into her own hands once again. She produced an eight minute sneak peek of the film with Mbatha-Raw in the role and found financiers at BET and Relativity Media.

“It was so nice to sit in a room and not hear that the lead is a black woman and she’s not going to sell.’ Rather they said, ‘We think she’s a star, who do you want for your male lead?’” Prince-Bythewood said.

Yes! I don’t know about you all but I’m ready for this one. I had the privilege of seeing a screening of Belle, starring Mbatha-Raw, and it was amazing as was she in the role. Plus it’s always nice to see black folk teaming up and using their forces for good. #Ready.

Take a look at the trailer below and some pictures from the upcoming film on the next page.


Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind “The Secret Life of Bees”

November 5th, 2012 - By Veronica Wells
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Riding on the success of a New York Times best-selling novel, it wasn’t a stretch to see that The Secret Life of Bees would be made into a feature film. Six years after the book was published, it hit the big screen with an all-star cast. The movie, which was highly anticipated was number 3 in the box office, raking in over $10 million during its first weekend and then over $47 million by the time it finished its run. The movie eventually received mixed reviews, with some calling it too syrupy sweet while others thought it was delightfully moving. Whether you loved it or just thought it was “aight,” check out these behind the scenes secrets.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind the Making of “Love and Basketball”

August 27th, 2012 - By Veronica Wells
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Love and Basketball was the bridging of two seemingly unrelated worlds, athletics and love. But the story came together seamlessly, with the help of the talented Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. The film, the first for director Gina Prince-Bythewood, would go on to become the highest grossing film produced by a black woman at that time, (2001). Let’s dive in and see how this movie was made, and the secrets behind this romantic classic.

Sistas Working Behind the Scenes

February 12th, 2011 - By Chaya Wilkins
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She is the sista that makes you laugh, sob and shout at your TV screen. She’s not your favorite actress, but she definitely plays a leading role. You may not know her name and you may never see her face. She works behind the scenes as the writer, director, and producer of some of our favorite shows, music videos, and films. Here are a five sistas the create the moments we love behind the scenes: