|Born||Gina Maria Prince
June 10, 1969
|Known for||Love & Basketball
The Secret Life of Bees
Beyond the Lights
|Home town||Pacific Grove, California|
|Spouse(s)||Reggie Rock Bythewood|
Prince-Bythewood was adopted by Bob Prince, a computer programmer, and Maria Prince, a nurse, when she was 3 weeks old. Her adoptive father is white and her adoptive mother is of El Salvadorian and German descent. She grew up in the white middle-class neighborhood of Pacific Grove, California. Her adoptive parents had four children before adopting her, so she has four siblings.
She said she sought out her birth mother recently, but it was not a positive experience. Her birth mother, who is caucasian, was a teenager when she gave her up for adoption, and because her family knew her child would be black, they wanted the young girl to have an abortion.
In 1987, Prince-Bythewood graduated from Pacific Grove High School. She attended UCLA's film school, where she also ran competitive track. At UCLA, she received the Gene Reynolds Scholarship for Directing and the Ray Stark Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Undergraduates. She graduated in 1991.
After five years working in TV as a writer on shows like A Different World and South Central, Prince-Bythewood wrote her first film, 2000's Love & Basketball. Prince-Bythewood said, "With Love & Basketball, I played ball my whole life and did track at UCLA. So, I’m an athlete. And it was very important for me to get it right." The film was developed at the Sundance Institute's directing and writing lab.
She directed the feature film, The Secret Life of Bees, which was adapted from the best-selling book by Sue Monk Kidd. It was released by Fox Searchlight in October 2008, and debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and Urbanworld Film Festival that same year. On the main character's story, Prince-Bythewood said she "connected to Lily’s story. I was adopted. There is a line in the film, 'there was a hole in me.' I felt the same way.... Another line I connected with in the film was 'I'm un-loveable.' That is how I felt in my 20s. Now I have been able to come out of that. One of the ideas in the film is also how to love yourself."
In 2014, Prince-Bythewood directed Beyond the Lights, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Prince-Bythewood began work on the film in 2007, before work on 2008's The Secret Life of Bees was completed, but struggled to find financing after her original production company, Sony, backed out after she insisted on casting Mbatha-Raw. The film premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
Beyond the Lights was originally called Blackbird, and is based on the Nina Simone song "Blackbird" from the record, Nina Simone with Strings. Prince-Bythewood said: "That song really inspired the movie and inspired Noni's story." The main character's story was also loosely inspired by the lives of Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. Prince-Bythewood did research with the assistance of a number of singers, including Alicia Keys. The story was also inspired by an experience seeing Keys play the song "Diary." Elements of the film, especially the sexualization of female pop artists, act as a "critique of American media culture."
The film was shot in 29 days and cost $7 million. All of the key crew members on the film were women: "[Editor] Teri Shropshire, this is our third film together so I always go to her. [Cinematographer] Tami Reiker, this was our second film, [Production Designer] Cecilia Montiel I'd worked with before. [Costume Designer] Sandra Hernandez, this is our third film together. With every film I'm doing, the crew that I like to work with is just getting more solidified and yeah, as I look up I see there are more and more women in those roles. And it's a very cool thing." Other collaborators were choreographer Laurieann Gibson (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj), hairstylist Kim Kimble (Beyonce), and record producer The Dream.
On her approach to storytelling: "I write what I [want to] see, and for me, when you’re writing a love story, nine times out of ten, you kind of know where’s it’s going to end. They’re either going to end up together or they’re not. And most of the time, they end up together. So, what’s important as a writer is to make the journey there interesting and create the twists and turns of the relationship and make it different and unexpected. You never want to go to the obvious place."
Prince-Bythewood sees box office as important, but as a filmmaker, she says she hopes the films resonate with audiences: "[T]he key, honestly for me, is longevity, the fact that, you know, Love & Basketball was 14 years ago and, you know, it’s still talked about. Like that’s what you want as a filmmaker. So if I don’t have that huge splash at the beginning, but the film has legs and longevity and people are still talking about it years later, I mean, that as an artist is what you want, that your work means something and sustains itself."
Prince-Bythewood doesn't like the categorization of "black film": "That term allows studios marginalize a movie and say, 'We've made our black film.' I just feel like people of color should be in every genre. So that is really my push. Starting with Love and Basketball, my hope has always been to make movies with people of color in them but tell stories that are universal. For me, this is a love story and a music film. I hope the same way I can go see The Notebook and fall in love with those characters, that anybody can see this film and fall in love with the characters the same way."
On whether or not she considers herself feminist: "I would consider myself a feminist. I wouldn’t say I make feminist movies, but my mindset influences what I write and what I direct. It’s interesting that there are so many different definitions of feminism, but for me, being in this male-dominated career, it’s bizarre to me there aren’t more females. Talent has no gender. It makes no sense."
Prince-Bythewood is married to film director and writer Reggie Rock Bythewood, who she met on the writing staff of A Different World. They have two sons, Cassius and Toussaint, and live in Southern California.
On life as a transracial adoptee: "I was raised by a great couple—mother was El Salvadorian and German, father was white. They’ve been great parents, and incredibly supportive. Growing up was tough, because we grew up in an all-white area, and not having any sort of reflected image really wrecked my self-esteem. As much love as they gave me, it’s tough standing out that much. Part of the issue was hair. They used a comb, and not a pick—so combing my hair was a hellish experience, and my hair looked crazy! (laughs) I had three ponytails—two on the side, and one on the top. I grew up hating my curls. I wanted straight hair like my sisters, who were both white." The opening scene of Beyond The Lights, set in a salon, showed this struggle.
- 2014: Beyond the Lights - director, written by
- 2008: The Secret Life of Bees - director, screenplay
- 2003: Biker Boyz - producer
- 2000: Love & Basketball - director, written by
- 2007: Daddy's Girl (documentary) - producer
- 2000: Disappearing Acts - director
- 1995: CBS Schoolbreak Special: What About Your Friends - director, writer (as Gina Prince)
- 2005: Everybody Hates Chris episode "Everybody Hates the Laundromat" - writer
- 2005: Girlfriends episodes "Odds & Ends," "Fits & Starts" - director
- 2003: The Bernie Mac Show episode "Magic Jordan" - director
- 1998-1999: Felicity episode "Friends" - writer, consulting producer (7 episodes)
- 1995: Courthouse - writer, co-producer (as Gina Prince)
- 1994: Sweet Justice - writer (as Gina Prince)
- 1994: South Central episode "Dog" - writer, story editor (7 episodes), executive story editor (2 episodes) (as Gina Prince)
- 1992-1993: A Different World episodes "College Kid," "Lean on Me," "To Whit, With Love," "Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're Axed" - writer (as Gina Prince)
- 2007: Reflections - director, writer, co-producer, script development
- 1997: Bowl of Pork - director (as Gina Prince)
- 1997: Damn Whitey - director, written by (as Gina Prince)
- 1997: Progress - director (as Gina Prince)
- 1991: Stitches - writer (as Gina Prince)
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