Gina Prince-Bythewood On 'The Old Guard' & Creating Space For Black Women In Hollywood
Since commanding our attention with Love & Basketball 20 years ago, Gina Prince-Bythewood has been laser-focused on creating space for Black women in Hollywood. That mission doesn't change now that she has made history with Netflix's latest action film, The Old Guard.
As grand as this moment is, Gina isn't impressed by the fact that she is the first Black woman to direct a major comic-book film. She questions why it took all this time instead. "I hate that we're still having firsts in 2020," she tells xoNecole. "It's like, at what point does it stop?"
THE OLD GUARD Aimee Spinks/NETFLIX
The Old Guard, which zooms in on an intimate camp of immortal mercenaries, isn't a mere win for Gina. In her eyes, it's a chance to ensure that Black women both in front of and behind the camera are no longer denied the shot to display the full scope of their talent. "I had a no-fail policy because I know how Hollywood works," she stresses. "There's such a spotlight on the few of us here that we have to succeed because in our success, others will get the opportunity."
In this xoChat, Gina reflects on cementing her name with Love & Basketball, overcoming rejection in Hollywood, and making room for KiKi Layne to shine in The Old Guard.
xoNecole: This year, you celebrated 20 years of 'Love & Basketball'. How has it been taking in how deep of a mark your first feature film has made?
Gina Prince-Bythewood: It really is amazing. It never gets old to hear that people dig the film. It's surreal that a film that was so hard to get made, that was such an incredible fight, that was such a personal story, has had longevity and that people still share it with family and friends after all this time. As an artist, that's what you dream about, of having your work sustain itself and affect people, so I'm blown away by it. It inspires me to keep doing what I'm doing.
What lesson from those early moments in your career do you keep close to the heart?
Overcome "no". That's the biggest thing. You only need one "yes".
When considering obstacles you’ve faced on your path, what keeps you from being jaded two decades into your career?
I'm acutely aware of the things that Hollywood has done wrong [and] how they're complicit in what is happening right now during this national reckoning, but what keeps me in this is I love to tell stories, I love what I do, and I know how important TV and film can be in shaping perception and changing culture. That sustains me. I only do things that I'm passionate about, and there are so many stories I want to tell, so there's always that excitement for me to get this into the world. The thing that creeps in every once in a while is knowing how hard it is to get some of these stories out there, but because I'm so passionate about it and know the game after 20 years and know that at some point somebody is going to say "yes", that absolutely keeps me going.
"I'm acutely aware of the things that Hollywood has done wrong [and] how they're complicit in what is happening right now during this national reckoning, but what keeps me in this is I love to tell stories, I love what I do, and I know how important TV and film can be in shaping perception and changing culture. That sustains me."
Thinking about the power that TV and film has, what on screen impacted you the most, especially when you think about why you decided to become a filmmaker in the first place?
There were two moments. When I was younger, I remember my family used to always sit down and watch M*A*S*H [together]. Then, one day I happened to turn the channel and Diff'rent Strokes was on, and it was the first time I felt like I saw myself reflected in this box, and I just became obsessed with it. Then in high school, when I was 17, I went to the movies and a trailer came up for She's Gotta Have It, and I got that same jolt of seeing a Black woman up there, and it affected me deeply. I wanted to give us that same jolt and give us the opportunity to see ourselves in ways that we can be inspired by.
With 'The Old Guard', you’ve become the first Black woman to direct a major comic-book film. How do you feel about that?
I hate that we're still having firsts in 2020. It's like, at what point does it stop? But, I'm proud of the fact that I got this opportunity to do it. I certainly worked hard to get it, and once I got it, I had a no-fail policy because I know how Hollywood works. There's such a spotlight on the few of us here that we have to succeed because in our success, others will get the opportunity. I carried that with me every day. That pressure fueled me as opposed to making me run away from it. I know that there are so many dope sisters out there that are as capable and eager to do the same thing, so I'm looking forward to them getting the shot.
"There's such a spotlight on the few of us here that we have to succeed because in our success, others will get the opportunity. I carried that with me every day. That pressure fueled me as opposed to making me run away from it. I know that there are so many dope sisters out there that are as capable and eager to do the same thing, so I'm looking forward to them getting the shot."
'The Old Guard' is an adaptation of the Greg Rucka comic book of the same name. What was it about this story that you gravitated to the most?
The [part I gravitated to] most was the fact that one of the old guards is a young, Black female hero. I was like, "Yeah, I need to put this in the world." I dug that she was naturally a warrior. There was such a normalcy to that. There wasn't some traumatic event that happened to her that forced her to find her strength. She was a Marine. She had it in her. It was innate in her. I love that narrative, and I love that it was two women at the forefront of the story with that same warrior mentality that I think that we all have, but we haven't always been given the encouragement to tap into. I also really dug the story. I liked what it had to say about finding your purpose and the importance of that, which was something very personal to me, and I felt the audience could connect with that despite the fantastical premise. I love that it was about the tragedy of immortality as opposed to the aspirational aspects. Prior to this movie, I used to think, I wish I could live forever. You think about the courage that would give you if you knew you couldn't die, but in doing this [film], you understand what that really means.
In our recent chat with KiKi Layne, she commended you for not allowing the action in the film to overpower the heart of the characters. Why was this so important to you?
What I love about the genre is the direction that it's really been going in the last couple of years where they feel more like action-dramas. That's what I love. I want to be able to care about the characters and not just watch action. If you don't care about the characters, if they're not furthering the story, then it gets monotonous to me. What I wanted to bring to this film was story first and character first, so that you, as an audience, are invested in and care about these people that you're spending two hours with.
You’ve dedicated your career to creating space for Black women to live on screen. What do you hope viewers take away from KiKi’s embodiment of Nile?
KiKi rocked it. I really want us to be able to look up on screen and see ourselves in a way that's inspiring. The best moment of this process was when we had an audience screening, and this sister, 22-years-old, commented that she wished she had Nile when she was 12-years-old. That was so dope to me. If we can see it for ourselves, we can start to live in that type of truth. The thing that makes Nile so badass is not just her strength and her swagger and her courage, but also her empathy and her vulnerability. I think that Nile and KiKi really embody all of that, and I think that she is definitely someone that we can aspire to be.
"If we can see it for ourselves, we can start to live in that type of truth. The thing that makes Nile so badass is not just her strength and her swagger and her courage, but also her empathy and her vulnerability. I think that Nile and KiKi really embody all of that, and I think that she is definitely someone that we can aspire to be."
With one superhero film down, where do you go from here?
As soon as I finished [The Old Guard], I was exhausted. It's a lot to shoot a film like this. I just kept thinking that I can't wait to get to another movie in my head that I want to write that's smaller and more personal. I was going to take six months off and just relax and write and shoot that, and then this script came to me that's just so dope. It's going to be announced very shortly. It just felt like everything I've done in my career, including The Old Guard, put me in a position to be able to make this film for us, so that little movie that's still in my head is going to have to wait another two years (laughs).
For more of Gina, follow her on Instagram. The Old Guard is now streaming on Netflix.
Featured image by Getty Images
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Deanna Robinson, a health and wellness advocate and professional based in the Washington D.C. area has been helping Black and brown women reach their fitness goals for more than a decade. And with her brand of self-love and faith, she's redefining just what "fitness" means when it comes to women of all shapes and sizes.
There's definitely a need for women like Robinson, especially since recent research shows that between 47% and 55% of Black consumers' needs "are not being met" in the wellness space, and the U.S. fitness industry hit $32 billion last year and that it's important for Black women to see themselves prominently in the space.
As a health and wellness programming expert, licensed nutritionist, mom, wife, and former all-women's gym owner, Robinson has built up a body of experience that has culminated into doing something she loves via the FabBody Retreat, an experience for women ages 30-60 to be enriched via group activities, good food, and connection in the backdrop of tropical peace and tranquility.
This year's retreat was held in Grenada, with special guest and TV host icon Free Marie (BET's 106 & Park). Next year's event will be held in St. Maarten with plenty of opportunities to enjoy beach vibes, authentic and healthy dishes, and all the pleasures of being among other fabulous Black women seeking holistic wellness in paradise.
"My God-given purpose is to help serve, connect, and heal Black and Brown women," she said, taking her experiences serving corporate and individual clients via projects like the NFL's "Fuel Up To Play 60" initiative and the Nike Training Club live experience, to do just that.
xoNecole caught up with her to talk about why she chose the fitness industry, her success in launching and running the FabBody Factory, and how she's pivoted to use her skills to build impact on a larger scale in health and wellness.
xoNecole: What sparked your interest in a career in health and wellness?
Deanna Robinson: I have always been involved in sports, always been active in cheerleading, dance, [and] gymnastics. In my college career, I was a competitive cheerleader at the University of Maryland, College Park, and I've just always been passionate about physical activity, health, and fitness. I double-majored in kinesiology and public and community health, and it's always been a passion for me about others being well.
Out of college, I wanted to be a personal trainer, and I interviewed at a big-chain gym. I was really excited about getting this job, but when I had the interview, they informed me of what the split was—what the client paid, what I'd get as a personal trainer, and what the gym got. And I just thought it was a ridiculous split. I've always been into entrepreneurship as well, and doing things on my own terms, so I actually opened up my own gym in the community I grew up in called the FabBody Factory, an all-female gym in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
I was able to hire several trainers, offer group classes and personal training, and one of the things I was always a big proponent of is making sure that they got a better cut than they would get at larger chains.
xoN: Talk a bit more about that in terms of starting a gym, especially one that caters to women. What was the process and motivation?
DR: I have worked out in big-box gyms before and just never felt comfortable. It was always really uncomfortable working out in a huge gym where men would be gawking at you or try to get your number when you're trying to focus on yourself in that moment. So I always wanted the FabBody Factory would be a safe haven where we didn't have to worry about our titties flopping when we're doing jumping jacks, it was just for us by us, and we could just [be] comfortable making ourselves a priority.
I was almost talked out of doing something like that because people would say, "You're cutting off half of your potential clientele," but I never had an issue. Women flocked to the gym, and I'd sometimes have to split classes. I might have to do part one of a class at one time and a second another time. It was majorly successful. Ladies loved it. And on top of this being all-women, it was all Black and brown women.
Culturally, we get each other, so it was a big social thing for us, too. We were able to fellowship with each other and get fit at the same time.
xoN: Your brand includes the concept of a 'Fab Body.' What does that mean for you---and just wellness---in general, for Black and brown women?
DR: FabBody in itself is not a look at all. It's more of a mindset and a willingness to invest in your mental, spiritual, and physical self. In promoting the FabBody Retreat, I actually had someone DM me and ask me, "Do you have to have a 'Fab Body' to come on the retreat?" and my response to her was that you do have a 'Fab Body.' Everyone has a Fab Body. It's more of a state of being—a sound, healthy mind, body, and spirit. It's not about aesthetics at all but about overall improvement.
xoN: You decided to pivot from owning a gym, which you ran successfully for more than a decade, to your current role in health and wellness programming and launching the FabBody Retreat. How did this come about?
DR: My gym closed last year, and the reason was because of where I saw myself going and where I wanted to be in the next 10 years. A lot of my time at the gym was selling and getting people to register for classes, and it wasn't as lucrative and fulfilling for me as it had been in the beginning.
Now I'm doing more consulting work with larger companies. One of my passions is programming, and that is where I see my future going. I'm moving more toward passive income, coming from my being able to use the knowledge I have from years in this industry and putting together programming that can reach the masses versus individuals.
xoN: What can people expect from the FabBody Retreat next year, and how does this venture continue your love for advocating for health and wellness among Black and brown women?
DR: One of the things that really sets this event apart from so many other retreats is that I have married everything that is important to me: wellness, my faith, and my community. God is a huge part of all of the events we do, and all are interwoven with faith-filled, intentional activities, and I think that's what makes it different. On Sunday, we do a service on the beach, and we always have a guest speaker—someone you can relate to where you don't feel like you're being preached to. It's an awesome experience, unlike any retreat I've seen.
It's definitely rooted in faith, but at the same time, there's a balance. We'll get on a boat and have a cocktail with an umbrella in it, and then we'll go back to wellness. There's a healthy balance.
Find out more about Deanna Robinson via Instagram @deannarobinsonfit and more on the FabBody Retreat via the website.
Featured image courtesy