On her way to becoming one of the most prominent Black female writer-directors in Hollywood, Gina Prince-Bythewood heard her fair share of the word “No.”
But the director of “The Old Guard” says overcoming her fear of failure has been key to her success. She battles her self-doubt by walking into every meeting with the same swagger she had walking onto the basketball court as a youngster.
“I literally am shaking before meetings, even now,” Prince-Bythewood said during a virtual roundtable hosted by the Television Academy Foundation and exclusively covered by Variety. “It’s scary to walk into a room and have to convince people to give you millions and millions of dollars and trust you with that and convince them that you are the best person tell the story, but you do that by being passionate about the work.”
Prince-Bythewood participated in a private conversation with the Foundation’s 50 summer interns on Wednesday night. The conversation, moderated by her longtime friend Mara Brock Akil (“Black Lightning,” “Girlfriends, “The Game”), was held both in celebration of “The Old Guard” — which is on track to become one of the Netflix’s most watched films to date — and because Prince-Bythewood is an alum of the Foundation’s internship program (The paid internship program has been in place since 1980; Prince-Bythewood interned in 1991).
When the conversation opened up to questions from the students, people asked for advice about job searching in the time of COVID-19 and how Prince-Bythewood and Brock Akil have navigated Hollywood as Black women when the industry is dominated by a white male perspective. Prince-Bythewood began by acknowledging the systematic racism in Hollywood, saying, “There’s no doubt it’s there.”
“What I have done is, first and foremost, I wrote the stuff that I directed. And I did that because I realized very quickly nobody is gonna just send scripts to me the direct, so I have to create my own opportunities,” Prince-Bythewood explained. “I’m the first audience. I have to write what I want to see, and then my hope is that others will want to see that as well. But stories about us [people of color] are the hardest to get made in this industry.”
Prince-Bythewood also discussed her breakthrough into the action genre, pointing to directing the pilot for Marvel’s “Cloak & Dagger” as an important step along the way.
“I went from thinking ‘I love action movies. I love Marvel films. [But] I’ll never get a chance to because Hollywood sucks.’ Having my younger son say to me ‘How come I don’t get to see myself as a superhero?’ — in my mind, I’m like ‘Wow, I’m an artist and I’m not giving my boys this thing that they need and that they crave,’” Prince-Bythewood recalled.
But shortly after this realization, Marvel came calling with a script for the Freeform show.
“I went into that room with such crazy passion, because I didn’t have any action on my resume or visual effects. So, [I thought] ‘What can I sell? What can I push?’ And I knew that I could push great character and story,” she said. “And the folks at Marvel TV that I sat with loved what I said about my vision for it and, honestly, the action thing never came up.”
“I learned so much doing [‘Cloak & Dagger’], but it also started getting me in the conversation, talking to Marvel on the film side, and then I got into the room for ‘Silver and Black.’ And that was a huge deal,” she continued.
Though the Sony-Marvel film ultimately didn’t move forward, Prince-Bythewood said, “Everything I learned in that year and a half working on it, I was able to take to ‘The Old Guard,’ so that it wasn’t suddenly this giant leap, it was just a step.”
“Perception is everything in this town and the fact that I was thought of suddenly to be ‘a woman that likes action and can do action’ — even though I never shot anything, it didn’t matter — I was now on that little list,” she said.
“So when ‘The Old Guard’ happened, that was Skydance being intentional on wanting a female director for the property,” she continued. “But the other amazing thing was, when I walked in the room that they said that I was there because of ‘Love and Basketball’ and ‘Beyond the Lights’ — two films that they loved — and they wanted what I brought to those dramas to ‘The Old Guard,’ so that it would feel like an action drama, as opposed to an action film.”