Archive for the ‘Gina Prince-Bythewood’ Category

Love & Basketball (2000) is a Hollywood film, a love story starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan. It was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (I will do a post on her). Lathan and Epps grow up next door to each other in the 1980s in Crenshaw, a black part of Los Angeles. They both love basketball – and, even when they do not want to admit it, each other. Basketball brings them together – and tears them apart.

This was the film that made Sanaa Lathan’s name and got Boris Kodjoe noticed (he takes her to the spring dance). Tyra Banks got a bit part but was already world-famous as a supermodel.

Gabrielle Union is in it too, then also pretty much unknown. She tried out for the lead but lost out to Lathan. Instead she got a part as one of Epps’s girlfriends. Union was to make her name that same year by starring in “Bring it On”, a cheerleader film.

Supporting characters: Debbi Morgan and Dennis Haysbert play Epps’s parents, Alfre Woodard plays Lathan’s mother.  In addition to the love story and the basetketball, the film shows Lathan’s relationship with her mother and Epps’s with his father. Debbi Morgan was great as a woman past her prime in a failing marriage.

The best scene except for the end was at the the spring dance: Lathan is dancing with Kodjoe and Epps is dancing with Union and they are playing Zapp and Roger’s “I Want to Be Your Man” (1987). Not only do I love that song but Lathan looked absolutely beautiful in that scene.

It is one of those movies I kept hearing about but never saw – till the other day. At the time it came out I had no reason to see it: I did not know Lathan then and my wife is no fan of Epps (too short?). I like Alfre Woodard but she is no big Hollywood star so I never know if she is in something until I am already watching it: “Hey, look, Alfre Woodard!”

It was a sweet story – though, truth be told, I would have probably watched it if it was just two hours of Sanaa Lathan breathing or waiting for a bus. If Halle Berry is bread, Sanaa Lathan is cake. With icing.

Lathan had played basketball only twice in her life before she got the part. They had to shoot the basketball scenes so you could not tell – partly by shooting the action from her point of view.

All the basketball players wear Nike shoes: because Nike had enough shoes from the 1980s for a period film. Prince-Bythewood, the director, tried to stay as in period as possible – though right in the opening scene set in 1981 she plays a song from 1983 (“Candy Girl” by New Edition). In the director’s commentary I found out that she knew that – she was just about the same age as the main characters in 1981 – but thought the song was too good to pass up.

– Abagond, 2010.

Family portrait from the film. Click to enlarge. From top to bottom: Harry Lennix, Sanaa Lathan, Regina Hall, Alfre Woodard.

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secret life of bees“The Secret Life of Bees” (2008)  is an American film based on the 2002 book of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd.  It stars Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo.

It is about Lily Owens, a 14-year-old white girl played by Fanning. She runs away from her heartless father to live with a family of three black sisters who keep bees. It takes place in small-town South Carolina in the summer of 1964. She is unable to discover the truth about herself till she finds out the truth about her dead mother. She discovers the true meaning of love, etc.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith produced it; Gina Prince-Bythewood directed it. She also did “Love & Basketball” (2000), another great film. “Bees” won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture.

2008_the_secret_life_of_bees_005I watched it because I wanted to see Alicia Keys. My sister saw it and warned me not to get my hopes up: “Alicia was so-so, nothing great.” She liked the film and watched it again with me, but she was not sure if I would get into it: “It’s a chick flick.” I still liked it. Touching and enjoyable.

Alicia Keys was pretty good. Beautiful as ever.  And, even better, she had a boyfriend so I could imagine myself as him. But one drawback with Alicia Keys is that I never forgot that it was Alicia Keys. Unlike with Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.

Jennifer Hudson did not have a big part. She played the maid that Fanning’s father had. There is a great scene where she is going to register to vote, extremely upsetting, but after they run away and arrive at Queen Latifah’s house Hudson becomes part of the background.

Sophie Okonedo was good. I wished they would show more of her.

Fanning regarded Hudson as an overgrown child and Hudson herself acted as if Fanning was way older than she was. I am not sure if that is how it was back then between black servants and white children.

Given how she was with Hudson I thought Fanning would be high-handed with Queen Latifah and her sisters. She was not. And it was not just because she was dependent on their kindness: she seemed to respect their age and wisdom. Partly, I think, because they had money and education.

When Sue Monk Kidd, who is white, was asked why she wrote about black women, she said:

Because I grew up surrounded by black women. I feel they are like hidden royalty dwelling among us, and we need to rupture our old assumptions and develop the willingness to see them as they are.

Or maybe it is just a magical Negro story.

When Queen Latifah’s godson took Fanning into town alone in his pickup truck it did not seem believable: how could he be that brainless!

The story takes place in South Carolina but was shot in North Carolina. It is based on Kidd’s childhood in – Georgia. Not that I could ever tell the difference.

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