We Need to Talk About Gina Prince-Bythewood

*Originally published on Much Ado About Cinema

In reflecting on how A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay has impacted how I see film and pursue a career as a teenager and young adult, I’ve thought about the films that influenced me the most when I was a kid. Seeing DuVernay has been a representation of what I wish I saw more of as I realized I want to pursue film, but I’ve realized that I’ve neglected a director whose work has had a vast impact on how I see film and storytelling since I was a kid–Gina Prince-Bythewood. Prince-Bythewood has made some groundbreaking independent films and yet when I see discussions about more female directors and more female directors of color, I don’t often see her mentioned.

Prince-Bythewood received critical acclaim for her directorial debut, Love & Basketball, in 2000. Starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, Prince-Bythewood’s award-winning film follows Monica and Quincy in multiple stages in their lives as they navigate reaching their athletic dreams and the love between them. The film, also written by the director, just seems like an excellent love story, but as I continued to watch it as I got older, I realized more and more that it’s really about a young woman who’s trying to sort how she can achieve her dream and have the love of her life. It’s not in a way that the man she loves is making her choose. It’s Monica’s journey of believing that she can have both–love the game and love Quincy.

You know when interviewers ask actors and filmmakers what sex scene they remember the most from their childhood? Well, this is mine. Since I first watched the movie with my older sister when I six or seven years old, I was understandably very confused by the intimate scene. Now, when I watch that scene all I think about is my sister and me watching the movie and seeing her unsuccessfully contain her laughter, dying to tell me the truth when I asked why Epps’ character was “hurting” Monica. That’s obviously not the movie’s intention but it’s one of the only movies that I have vivid memories of watching from a young age. A movie with a female protagonist that looks a lot like my basketball-playing sister. A movie with such a well-written black female character I find it ridiculous that it’s not talked about more when people discuss the female canon. While I will never stop adoring Lady Bird‘s portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship, Love & Basketball should be praised for the same relationship between Sanaa Lathan and Alfre Woodard’s characters.

The writer-director didn’t stop creating extensive black female characters. In 2014 film, Beyond the Lights starring the brilliant Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker, Prince-Bythewood offers another film that, at first, masquerades as a love story between a man and a woman and reveals itself of being a love story between a woman and herself at its core. So, while I’m ecstatic that the conversation about uplifting more female directors of color, a key person has not been acknowledged far enough for what she has accomplished. Gina Prince-Bythewood has given me two of my favorite films and, while it may not mean much, I recognize what she’s done for the film industry by telling stories that people of color are scarcely seen in. Now it’s time for everyone else to recognize it, too.

Through my eyes,

Sydney ❤

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