Love is Her Labor

From, 4/00

Gina Prince-Bythewood doesn't have much time these days to
ponder her position as one of the few female writer-directors in
male-dominated Hollywood. She's too busy making movies.

"Maybe if I stopped and thought about it, maybe it would freak me
out, but I don't," she says. "You're on the set and you're in charge
of hundreds of people. Everyone's looking to you to set the tone.
But I don't think about it because it's the only thing I've ever
wanted to do. I feel comfortable because I've worked so hard to get

That hard work appears to be paying off at last. Prince-Bythewood's
big-screen directorial debut, the romantic drama "Love and
Basketball," is drawing all the right kinds of pre-release attention in
the industry. Due out April 21, the film follows two roundball players
("The Mod Squad's" Omar Epps and newcomer Sanaa Lathan) who
fall for each other while chasing their respective hoop dreams -- a
combination of sports and sex that might just turn out to have
breakout date-movie potential.

A lifelong jock who lettered in six sports in high school,
Prince-Bythewood was never afraid of competing with the boys on
the playing field -- excellent training for Hollywood, it turns out.

"My sisters and I were always in soccer leagues and on softball
teams, and we were always the only girls on the teams," she says.
"Which I actually think has helped me today because this business is
so male-dominated, [and] it doesn't faze me. I've always had to
fight my way into games because I was a girl."

As a black woman, Prince-Bythewood has few predecessors in the
director's chair. Yet she found New Line Cinema to be extremely
supportive of "Love and Basketball," giving the first-time filmmaker
freedom to work within her modest budget. Ditto for producer Spike
Lee, who also adopted a hands-off role.

"It was actually a little scary because I had so much control during
the whole filmmaking and editing process," Prince-Bythewood says.
"New Line really spoiled me on this. They gave me more money than
I asked for and complete autonomy. They didn't come to the set,
and they didn't force anything on me during editing. It's been pretty
amazing. I'm just wondering if it's ever going to get this good again."

New Line got behind the project after studio President Michael De
Luca read Prince-Bythewood's original script, which was developed
with the support of the Sundance Film Festival's prestigious Writer's
and Director's Labs.

"Mike De Luca said it was one of the best love stories he had ever
read and asked when would I be ready to shoot it,"
Prince-Bythewood says. "I wondered if he was joking. But he kept
talking about it and asked how much we wanted. I said $10 million
and he said, 'No, you need more!' Then it just got better and

The experience was a night-and-day contrast to the exasperation
Prince-Bythewood sometimes faced working as a writer and
producer on television series such as "A Different World," "South
Central" and "Felicity."

"I've faced more problems in TV than I have in film," she says. "Like
'Sweet Justice' -- I had a script canned by the network because
they said it was 'too black.' And then when I joined the show
'Courthouse,' it had two black leads [Jeffrey Sams and Robin Givens]
and a new regime came in and said, 'You can't have a drama with
black leads.' So they recast the show with two white leads. Dealing
with that stuff was really frustrating. That's why I like film."

Not that "Love and Basketball" didn't have its own growing pains as
Prince-Bythewood struggled over the script for two years, trying to
find the story she wanted to tell.

"I was crying over the computer because it wasn't working," she
says. "I think it was about a year into the process when I had an
incredible writer's block -- I just hated the script and started to
panic because I took a year off working on TV. People would ask
what I was doing and I said I was at home working on a script. They
thought that I couldn't get a job."

Things are looking considerably brighter for the film as its national
release approaches. For one thing, Prince-Bythewood figures the
current interest in the Women's National Basketball Association and
other women's sports could work in its favor.

"Coming off of the huge world-wide audience for the World's Cup
and the WNBA in its third season, it's definitely the perfect time for
this movie to come out," she says. "The awareness is so high right
now and the stigma attached to women's sports is starting to fade."

She's particularly proud that "Love and Basketball" shows a different
side of the black experience than the limited view moviegoers are
used to seeing in broad comedies and gangsta shoot-'em-up flicks.

"There's so little diversity in black film," she says. "That's why I'm
glad films like 'The Best Man' and 'Love and Basketball' got made,
and I hope that the trend can continue. It's so disheartening that in
all the preview audiences we've had, one of the biggest reasons
people applaud the film is because no one gets shot and no one is
on drugs. How sad is that? I mean, there's nothing wrong with a
little 'Booty Call' if we can get our own 'Braveheart' once in a while."

Thanks to Shabbba92 for passing this on.