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
Shanice Davis is a writer from New York, dedicated to illuminating women of color and Caribbean culture with her pen. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @alwayshanice.
Three Influencers Show Off Their 2022 Holiday Hair Looks Using Their SheaMoisture Faves
This post is in partnership with SheaMoisture.
For Black women, there’s one compliment that will boost our confidence like none other: “Come through hair!” You know the vibe! Walking into a room with folks acknowledging that your hair is laid for the gawds, and the effort that it took to get it there, is a top five feeling. And with the holiday season just weeks away, you’ll be hearing that quite often. Between Thanksgiving gatherings with the family, Friendsgiving, company parties, and Christmas get-togethers, the opportunities to let your hair show up and show out aren’t too far away.
Apart from the holiday stuntin’, the end-of-year slow down is also the perfect opportunity to reevaluate the year your hair has had. Whether you kept it cute with protective braids, went big with blowouts, or let loose with textured twist-outs, this is the perfect time to give your hair the gift of TLC - tender lovin’ curls. Like the weather, our hair goes through seasons and has different needs depending on what we’ve put it through. Perhaps the transition into fall/winter has left your curls a bit parched and in need of some serious hydration. Or maybe your strands could use some restorative conditioning after taking it down from a convenient protective style. No matter what category you fall into, SheaMoisture has hundreds of ways that you can clean, treat and refresh your hair for a healthy shine that will bring you into the new year right. Bring your curls back to life with the nourishing and fragrant Coconut & Hibiscus line. Boosted with natural ingredients such as coconut oil, neem oil, carrot oil, and shea butter, this line is the antidote to reviving thirsty, dehydrated hair. Even better - with SheaMoisture’s custom quiz, you can get a hair analysis that will lead you to the right products for your hair needs. Say hello to sleek edges, and moisturized, stronger strands.
In need of a little hair-spiration? We got you covered! xoNecole and SheaMoisture have teamed up with three natural hair influencers to debut their holiday hair looks. Meet Ambrosia Malbrough, Jasmin Moses, and Daye Covington - beauty bawses who’ve created some incredible holiday looks that are stylish and easy to achieve. They also gave us the scoop on the SheaMoisture products they’re loving right now, as well as their 2023 hair goals.
Read on for more:
Daye Covington Kicks Her Twist Out Up A Notch With A Voluminous Updo
“I wanted to create a style that was super cute but also easy to pull together, so I went with a puff and tendril combo! It's a style that can be done on freshly washed curls or one that can be done on old hair. [It’s perfect for] when we're short for time but want to add a little razzle-dazzle to our hair before a special occasion. It's very versatile!”
“My favorite Shea Moisture product hand's down is the Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie! That is definitely a #TeamNaturalHair staple. Coconut is one of the ingredients that my hair favors. I also find that medium/light creams absorb best in my hair, so it's no surprise that I get amazing definition and moisture when I use the Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I love it for twist-outs, braid-outs, and rod set styles. Any product that can give me versatility when it comes to styling plus added moisture, that's what a staple is for me!”
“I would love to dye my hair back to blue! It was my favorite hair color, but unfortunately, my 9-5 now prohibits unnatural hair colors. I'm pushing it with this dark plum color, but I look forward to the day where I can transition into a new stage of life and go back to blue. In the meantime, I'm focusing on length retention. I've been doing well for 2022 and have had no major cuts so I'm hoping to stay consistent with my routine in 2023.”
Follow Daye on Instagram @dayelasoul
Ambrosia Malbrough Made Magic With Poppin’ And Defined Finger Coils
“[Finger coils] is a style that I don’t do often, it takes much more time than my usual wash and go. But that extra time put in makes it extra special and so worth it. The results are beautiful. It’s a style that offers many days of wear, too!”
“[Earlier this year] I did my 4th big chop. This time around hit different as a mom of two. I don’t always have the extra time on my hands to put into my hair, so the short ‘do has been convenient. I’ve realized that not all wash days are created equal even if I use the same products. However, my 4c coils are loving the products I'm using now”
“Since I’ve been having my hair dyed, I’m looking forward to trying Shea Moisture’s new Mongongo and Jojoba Oils High Porosity Moisture Replenish Hair Masque. I am currently growing my hair out and plan on having fun with more highlights and a new shape - possibly a shag cut in 2023!”
Follow Ambrosia on Instagram at @brosiaaa
Jasmin Moses Shows The Secrets To Her Jaw-Dropping Curly Ponytail
“I love doing a sleek ponytail with my baby hairs laid to a T! It helps so my hair isn't in the way when I am cooking and running errands, but it's still snatched to provoke anyone in the room to stop me to say 'girllll your hair is laid!'. I like to add a little razzle dazzle by adding my cute, naturally curly ponytail extensions. It elevates the look perfectly for the holidays.”
“It took me from my freshman year of college to now, almost seven whole years, to know what works for my hair. I love protective styles like wigs and braids because my hair thrives when I don't mess with it. When I leave my hair alone, it grows the best, so I love taking off my wig when I get home, oiling my scalp and putting my bonnet on for bed! When I do wear my natural hair out, what helps me maintain the health of my hair is to get in a rhythm with my hair. [I do] my wash days on Sunday, wear it in a wash n’ go all week, and repeat the next Sunday.”
“My 2023 hair goal is to get back to my 2021 hair length! Recently, a hairstyle damaged my hair causing me to lose 4 inches in length, which was not fun. So I’m working on getting [my hair] back to its original health and keep growing from there! I am also looking forward to trying the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie as a one-product wash n’ go! I hear such great things about it and I think it will give me hold while also keeping my hair lightweight and voluminous. I’m also excited about the Coconut & Hibiscus Defining Styling Gel and Edge Gel.”
Follow Jasmin on Instagram @slimreshae
Exclusive: Teyana Taylor And Director A.V Rockwell Explore Black Motherhood In New Film, 'A Thousand And One'
“This was a match made in denim and door-knocker heaven!” Actress Teyana Taylor jokingly said after letting out a laugh. She was referring to her relationship with the main character Inez De La Paz, in the film A Thousand and One, approaching theaters nationwide this Friday.
Set against the backdrop of 90s - early 2000s Harlem at the inception of gentrification, A Thousand and One chronicles the life of a 20-something-year-old mother of color raising her son. The film captures the realness and relatability of motherhood, family, and marriage. The movie stars multi-talented actress/entertainer Teyana Taylor, William Cartlett, Aaron Kingsley, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, and Terri Abney. It was executive produced by Lena Waithe and was written and directed by A.V. Rockwell.
This film was written through the lens of the often complicated relationship between mothers and sons. However, it isn't your typical movie about urban Black motherhood. No one gets shot, has a drug addiction, and if you ask me, Inez De La Paz (Teyana Taylor’s character) is a ‘shero’; she saves the day, or at least Terry’s life (her son).
This multilayered film touches on the challenges faced while establishing a life following a prison sentence, the flawed NYC foster care system, motherhood, marriage, love, the relationship between a father and son, and Black NYC neighborhoods at the onset of gentrification.
"There's a lot of pain in it, and in order to express pain, there has to be a love that comes with it. So I felt like the movie was a love letter to Black women but a heartbreak letter to New York City…. We contributed so much to the city and made it the special place that it is," said Rockwell. I asked myself, 'How do I reconcile the fact that this place that I love and that is home to me never loved me?'
Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley Adetola.
Photo courtesy of Focus Feature Films
Both Rockwell and Taylor are New York natives, Rockwell is from Queens, and Taylor is from Harlem. The pair agreed they directly related to the lead character, Inez. During our conversation, Taylor explained how we could all connect with Inez. "Inez is within us from being judged or considered difficult for your strength, for your voice, for your tone, no matter how right you are, you're wrong because you're too loud… When you minimize yourself, it's an issue. You're not enough, and when you maximize yourself, it's too much," she said.
According to Rockwell, Taylor auditioned for the role and earned it fair and square, "Nobody can take away from the fact that she earned this role in all the right ways. I think it's great to have that cherry on top. The fact that she's a Harlem girl and that this is a movie about protecting her neighborhood not only what it means to us New Yorkers but what it means to black identity and history in general," she said. "Not only are we honoring Harlem, [but] she is [also] a part of that history that we are trying to protect. I'm really proud of that as well. This person who is a part of this historic neighborhood gets to be the one leading the torch of this role."
We all know Taylor as the uber-talented singer, dancer, actress, fashionista, entrepreneur, artist, wife, and mother. She seems to do it all so effortlessly, but Taylor described the role as therapeutic. It allowed her to put down that superwoman persona while filming on set. "The easy part about this role was that I'm already a mom, so I'm naturally nurturing… In some ways, Inez became very therapeutic for me because it was the only time that I could actually be weak and turn off my strength, and cry and let out all of the things I was battling," the "Rose in Harlem" singer revealed.
Director A.V. Rockwell
Photo courtesy of Focus Feature Films
After watching Taylor master the leading role of this complicated story, it's not absurd to think she may be awarded extensively for her portrayal of Inez. Taylor told me she's ready for everything to come but isn't looking to get too comfortable while soaking up the likely inflow of accolades, "I'm ready. I think it's everything that I prayed for. I think this is God saying ok, here you go… I'm blessed, and I'm grateful, and I just want to continue to just keep working hard and not get too comfortable. Stay hungry, stay the hustler that I am…this is really only just the beginning."
It's not every day we get to see a film with a Black woman starring in a leading role. Furthermore, it's not common to see a Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winning movie directed by a Black woman. It's no secret that diversity in Hollywood is uncommon, and the aforementioned are all the more reasons we should visit theaters this Friday to see A Thousand and One.
Not only is this film amazing storytelling, but the production of this film helps to move the needle of diversifying Hollywood and creating spaces for Black women in the film industry forward.
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Feature image by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Focus Features