The Secret Life of Bees director Gina Prince-Bythewood

It’s the London Film Festival 2008 and Gina Prince-Bythewood is over in the UK to promote her latest film. Surrounded by the colourful luxury of the Soho Hotel, the composed and controlled writer/director sits down with Flavour Magazine for a quick chat.

Gina Prince-Bythewood is probably most famous for her film Love and Basketball which was produced by Spike Lee and starred Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. She was also the director behind Wesley Snipes in Disappearing Acts as well as directing episodes of Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends and The Bernie Mac Show. Her latest film The Secret Life of Bees is the heart-warming and emotional tale of the Boatwright Sisters; three African-American women who run their own Bee Farm during the racially charged 1960’s. One day, the sisters are unexpectedly visited by Lily, a young white runaway accompanied by her black house keeper Rosaleen and both of them are seeking a place to stay. Unable to turn them away the sisters take them in and a journey of love, friendship and family soon begins.

Originally a novel by author Sue Monk Kidd, the film was one Gina had wanted to make for a long time, ‘I loved the book, tremendously! Cried when I read it and thought there were some universal themes within it’, she says calmly. ‘Then also the Boatwright sisters, I had never seen black women like that portrayed on film and thought the chance to bring them to life would have been a gift – I felt like I had to make the film.’ The film boasts an all star cast including Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys who play the sisters, Jennifer Hudson who plays Rosaleen and Dakota Fanning who plays 14-year-old Lily. But having also written the script Gina knew who she wanted to cast from early on. ‘When I was writing it I had some faces in mind. Dakota definitely, Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo; Alicia Keys was the one that came along later. But once I saw the three together and put them together in a room, I could tell that they would be really believable as sisters’.

The film is in based South Carolina and is set soon after The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been signed. The Act allowed the thousands of African-American who had previously been barred from voting, the freedom to register to vote. Now, there have been a number of films that depict the racial tensions within the Deep South of America and it’s an obvious question as to what this film will bring to that genre. ‘The fact that this unique family is formed between the Boatwright Sisters, Rosaleen and Lily, a young white girl’, she states in a controlled and thought-out manner. ‘I think it’s really important that you can celebrate your differences but it doesn’t inhibit your ability to love each other.’

The Secret Life of Bees contains all the essential ingredients of your average chick flick; emotion, tears and a good ol’ love story, but despite this Gina insists that the film appeals not only to women, ‘You can look at the poster and see it’s only marketed towards women’ she smiles, ‘but the great thing is when husbands or boyfriends are dragged to it, they come out being as moved as the women.’

But things haven’t always been easy for the mother-of-two, who is married to fellow writer/director Reggie Rock Bythewood as she herself has found is difficult as a black female director, ‘I have dealt with it – racism, pretty face-to-face. But I feel like for the most part my choices are more discriminated against, in that a lot of the things I wanna focus on are female driven or black female driven and those are the toughest things to get made’, she determines. ‘But for the most part I am able to just push them aside and focus on what I’m trying to do and just continue to believe that talent has no race or gender’.

The Secret Life of Bees opens in cinemas nationwide on the 5th December 2008.

Words by Karla Williams

See the trailer for The Secret Life of Bees here:

30 Minutes with Dakota Fanning and Gina Prince-Bythewood

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