Real Talk With Gina Prince-Bythewood: Setting the Record Straight On Beyond the Lights

If you haven’t gone out to see Beyond the Lights, you are truly, truly missing out! Thankfully, before I had the opportunity to screen the movie, I hadn’t seen any previews for it or heard about it. That’s mainly due in part because I hardly ever watch TV. But I say “thankfully” because I didn’t have any pre-conceived expectations for what the movie was going to be about. After watching it, I genuinely fell in love with the movie and the characters, and wanted everyone else to do the same. I took my husband to watch it opening weekend, and he enjoyed it just as much as I did.

And while the movie has done well (currently at $13 milllion, with production costs at $7 million), it hasn’t done as well as many of us hoped it would do. After reading Gina Prince-Bythewood’s open letter to encourage support of the movie, I wanted to reach out to her and set the record straight on a few things.

Gina Prince-BythewoodWhat was your reason for writing the open letter and what did you want the impact to be?

Gina: It’s interesting, especially the response of the letter. It’s fascinating how many people responded. Sometimes people don’t always understand the filmmakers behind the films, and the reasons why we make the films that we do. It was really a means for me to connect with my audience and speak to them directly. Sometimes an interview doesn’t always clearly outline why you made the film, and your intent. It was a chance to connect with people who had been fans of my work in the past and understand why I continue to do what I do.

Why do you think the rave reviews aren’t translating as well into box office sales?

Gina: Well the thing is that the film cost $7M to produce so the good thing is that it’s made its money back from the production, to be clear on that. Of course you want that huge leap, everyone does. But the fact is that it is getting well received. The chance that I get to go to the theatre and look up on the screen and see the movie that was in my head is so rare, and knowing the fight it took to get this made; seeing the reactions of people watching – that’s what you want as an artist, I’m so grateful for that. Of course it’s a word of mouth film, people that see it tell others.

I do think there was a disconnect with marketing and people thinking it was something that it’s not.  The whole bodyguard thing kept circulating, which I hated because I certainly know that it had nothing to do with the bodyguard, nor was I trying to do a remake of the bodyguard. That kept getting repeated, so people may have thought, “I’ve seen that before”. There was a disconnect with what the film was. I’ve gotten too many people who have now seen the film and said, “Wow, I didn’t get any of that from the trailer. I thought it was going to be different.” It’s obviously hard to hear because you don’t have as much control over the marketing, so it’s tough. Now it’s all about word of mouth. It’s about people saying, “Hey, ignore the posters and go see the film” [Laughs].

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (right) discusses a scene with star Nate Parker (left) on the set of Relativity Media’s BEYOND THE LIGHTS. Copyright © 2013 Blackbird Productions, LLC Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner

I heard someone say that you didn’t want it to be seen as a “black film”. Can you confirm or deny and elaborate a bit on that?

Gina: It’s hard because you say something in an interview and it gets twisted a bit. My issue is that I don’t want Hollywood having “black film” as a genre because they use it to marginalize us. They say if they do any film with any people of color in it, they’ve done their black film, as opposed to I want to push to get us in every genre: sci-fi, westerns, love stories, I want us in everything and it’s a way for Hollywood to marginalize.

I make films with people of color for a specific reason. It starts with allowing us to get to go to the theatres and see ourselves reflected. I want the world to see us and look up on the screen and empathize, and enjoy that experience in the same way I can go and see the Notebook and fall in love with those characters. It’s two-fold.

How can bloggers and influencers continue to support this film or jump on board and encourage their audiences to support this film and your work?

Gina: You all have a great voice. You all saw the film and you were so supportive after you saw the screening. It’s really just you guys speaking about the film, letting people know who maybe weren’t enthralled to see it because they thought it was one thing, to let them know that they need to see it. I want them to know the way it speaks to women, my hope of change, that it has a powerful message, and there’s a hot love story in the middle of it with insane chemistry [laughs]. It’s a fun movie experience. The biggest thing for me is that it is a film that I think should be seen on the big screen. It’s a love story; it’s a music film. You want to see it and hear it and allow it to envelope you. When I go to the movie, I love that shared experience, hearing the crowd as a whole react to the airplane scene. I love that experience and that’s what I think people will miss not seeing it in the theatre or seeing it on bootleg [Laughs].

I recently saw a tweet from someone who was, in essence chastizing you for not choosing a darker skinned “Noni”. What do you say to those who are in the mindset of “Why didn’t she choose a dark-skinned actress instead of a light-skinned one”?

Gina: It’s tough because for one, I think my track record speaks for itself, with Love and Basketball and Disappearing Acts with Sanaa Lathan. I will absolutely agree that Hollywood has a bad record of casting and it’s absolutely a real thing. However, I’ve been thrown into this generalization and it was clear that this woman didn’t see the movie. The way it was casted was specific to the story. There’s a point to it. She has a white mother; she’s still a black woman. I have a white mother; I’m a black woman. So for me, I’m making films for black women, all black women whether it’s Sanaa Lathan or Gugu Mbatha-Raw. To delineate because of color is so dangerous because that’s what the rest of the world is doing to us, judging without knowing. That’s not where I’m coming from as a filmmaker at all. I just want to see ourselves in all shades reflected on screen.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star in Relativity Media's  BEYOND THE LIGHTS. Copyright © 2013 Blackbird Productions, LLC Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker star in Relativity Media’s BEYOND THE LIGHTS.
Copyright © 2013 Blackbird Productions, LLC Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner

I’m grateful that you reached back out and are motivated to continue to spread the word. That’s really what it takes is people who believe in the film to step up and be a champion for it. I’m really grateful and proud of the film. I’m able to put myself out here because I have confidence in the film and I’ve seen the way it’s affected people. I want that for us. I want people to be changed and moved.

Be sure to go out and support this amazing film! Click here to check your local movie listing and to purchase your tickets.

If you haven’t seen the movie, let us know if you plan to go. If you’ve seen the movie, share your thoughts below with Gina.

This post also appears on Black and Married with

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  • Nadeen White
    December 12, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    Revealing article and great movie! I will continue to spread the word for Beyond the Lights!

  • Fidelia God-blessed
    December 17, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    As you've already pointed out Christine I also haven't heard about this movie but because of this article's informative content I'm definitely sold.! I will report back to you. Great insight! Thank you.

    • Christine St.Vil
      December 17, 2014 at 11:55 PM

      Yay!!! That’s awesome Fidelia! I’m so glad that this interview gave you insight and encouraged you to go and support the movie 🙂 Thanks for sharing and please share with your network as well!

  • Kendra
    December 22, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    I just got a chance to see it last week and I’m so glad that I did. The movie really is awesome. It made me want to leave my husband so I could fall in love all over again. 🙂
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  • Simone S Gray
    December 22, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    That's it, it's settled I'm treating the family to a Movie night while on winter break to see Beyond the lights! To be honest with you I only really saw previews of the movie while on YouTube…. I don't watch TV much these days.

  • KiwiTheBeauty
    December 22, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    I've actually gotten a chance to meet Gina in Atlanta for the screening of this film. This film was amazing in so many ways…we need more black romance (not just rom-coms) on the big screen. It was so touching and the message was amazing. It kind of reminds you of the real life of how some of these celebs are behind the light (or beyond lol). I love this film!

  • MJ
    December 23, 2014 at 6:59 AM

    I have not been to a movie in years. The big screen is not my preference. I prefer curling up on the couch. After reading this interview and all the positive things I’ve heard about this film, I am going to try to get a sitter and get to this movie. Let’s see if I can make a quick date night out of it. Thanks for sharing this Christine. Poignant and so necessary especially the “color” casting part. Our black in all shades is beautiful!

    • Christine St.Vil
      December 26, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      Thanks so much MJ! I saw that dialogue happening on social media and thought it was important to address. I do hope you get a chance to see it on the big screen if you can, although I definitely understand wanting to curl up on the couch 🙂

  • LaShawn
    December 23, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    I absolutely loved this movie! It was so positive and such a great date movie! I’ve actually seen it three times!
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    • Christine St.Vil
      December 26, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      That’s awesome LaShawn!!! Yes, it was absolutely a great date night movie and I’m working on going to see it a third time as well 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  • Christine St.Vil
    December 26, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    I hope you've gotten a chance to watch it Fidelia! Thanks so much!

  • Christine St.Vil
    December 26, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    Thank you Nadeen!

  • Christine St.Vil
    December 26, 2014 at 5:47 PM

    Thanks so much KiwiTheBeauty! Isn't Gina amazing?! I'm so glad you got to meet her as well. And yes, we definitely need more (real) black romance on the big screen and she does an excellent job of doing just that!

  • Christine St.Vil
    December 26, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    Yay! Thanks Simone and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about it once you've seen it. I hadn't seen previews at all before I saw the screening either for that reason, so don't feel bad 🙂

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