Black History 365: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Gina Maria Prince-Bythewood (born June 10, 1969) is an American film director and screenwriter. She is known for directing the films Love & Basketball (2000), Disappearing Acts (2000), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), Beyond the Lights (2014), and The Old Guard (2020).
Prince-Bythewood was born in Los Angeles, California, and 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 Salvadoran and German descent. She grew up in the white middle-class neighborhood of Pacific Grove, California. She has four siblings through her adoptive family.
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.
She sought out her birth mother around 2014, but it was “not a positive experience”. Her birth mother, who is white, was a teenager when she gave her up for adoption, because her family knew her child would be multiracial and they wanted her to have an abortion.
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. The film was based on Prince-Bythewood’s personal life and her experiences growing up. It was developed at the Sundance Institute‘s directing and writing lab. The film won 12 awards and was nominated for three more. It won Best Film and Best Film Poster at the Black Reel Awards, and Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film also grossed $27.7 million worldwide, making it the ninth most popular basketball film in the United States at that time.
She directed the feature film The Secret Life of Bees, 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.
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 when the 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, originally called Blackbird, 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 loosely inspired by the lives of Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. Prince-Bythewood also stated that the movie is filled with intense personal issues with some resulting from her own adoption and her fraught encounter with her birth mother. 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, including costume designer Sandra Hernandez, production designer Cecilia Montiel, cinematographer Tami Reiker, and editor Teri Shropshire. Other collaborators were choreographer Laurieann Gibson (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj), hairstylist Kimberly Kimble (Beyoncé), and record producer The-Dream.
In 2016 Prince-Bythewood announced her next project would be an adaptation of Roxane Gay‘s novel An Untamed State. The project would be co-written by herself and Gay and would star Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
In 2017 Prince-Bythewood, along with her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood, created the show Shots Fired for Fox. Later that year, Prince-Bythewood was announced as the director for Silver & Black, a movie based on Marvel Comics characters Silver Sable and Black Cat.
She wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of the novel Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. The film had an estimated $12,498,674 worldwide box office take by March 2017 after its release date (January 21, 2017). She directed the 2020 film adaptation of Greg Rucka‘s The Old Guard for Netflix, starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne. She is the first mixed race woman to make a comic-book film.
In 2020, she and her husband signed a deal with Touchstone Television to produce their output using the banner “Undisputed Cinema.”
Prince-Bythewood is currently working on directing TriStar Pictures epic The Woman King, a feature inspired by true events that took place in the Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries, The Woman King tells the story of Nanisca (Viola Davis), general of the all-female military unit known as the Amazons, and her daughter, Nawi, who together fought the French and neighboring tribes who violated their honor, enslaved their people and threatened to destroy everything they’ve lived for. She also directed the first episode of ABC’s Women of the Movement.
In March 2021, Prince-Bythewood took on a new role as Co-Chair of the Directors Guild of America African American Steering Committee (AASC). Working alongside Director Jeffrey W. Byrd, Prince-Bythewood will be addressing needs of the African American members of the Guild such as job creation and career advancement in this new position. On August 26, It was announced that because of Prince-Bythewood’s commitments to other projects, she would not direct The Old Guard 2 and will be replaced by Victoria Mahoney. Prince-Bythewood will remain as producer on the film.
In 1998 Prince-Bythewood married film director and writer Reggie Rock Bythewood, whom she met on the writing staff of A Different World. The couple have two sons, Cassius and Toussaint, and live in Southern California.
Along with friends Mara Brock Akil, Sara Finney Johnson and Felicia D. Henderson, Prince-Bythewood endows The Four Sisters Scholarship.