Interview: Writer-Director discusses “Beyond the Lights” movie

Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood of “Love & Basketball” brings another love story to the big screen. This time around, she explores the world of a female artist (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) struggling to cope with her hypersexualized image and the cop (played by Nate Parker) who saves her when she dives off a balcony.

Prince-Bythewood recently discussed her motivation for the movie and her hopes of seeing the reversal of the hypersexualized image of young female artists and its effects on society.

How did you come up with the script for the movie?

I actually came up with the idea at an Alicia Keys concert. She was singing “Diary,” which is this beautiful, epic love song. This story, this character popped into my head. It doesn’t always happen like that but it was like I was watching a movie with her singing on the soundtrack. I was very excited about this idea.

How did you pick the lead role for the movie?

I originally wanted a musical artist for the lead but the musical artist I had fell out. It was devastating at the time but everything happens for a reason. I realized I needed an actor for the role. Gugu came through the door two years ago. She was an unknown. This was before [the movie] “Belle.” I knew it as a director when she was auditioning. She was just so good. 

What difficulties did you face in creating the movie?

[The studios said] love the script, we think she is cool but she is not a star. We can’t make a movie with her.” Relativity [Media] stepped up and said we see what you see in Gugu. With the male lead, I wanted to make a love story with people of color and some studios were like could you make Kaz white, which I didn’t want to do. They said who do you want to cast and I said Nate Parker and they loved him.

It was two years of hell but it brought me to a place where I had creative control to cast it the way I wanted and make the film that was in my head.

What made you highlight in the movie the sexuality of females in the industry and its long term effects?

I love R&B and hip hop but in the last two years it has just gone into a really angry, ugly place for both men and women. It does seems that there is a blueprint that young women coming into the industry have to follow and it is a hypersexualized persona.

I do feel that what is going on in music is trickling down to our young kids and hypersexualization is becoming normal. It is dangerous and I don’t see it changing. It seems to be a competition of who can push the envelope the furthest. There is really nowhere else to go except over a cliff and that is where our character is at the beginning of the movie.

Did you conduct research for the movie?

I was very fortunate to be able to talk to a couple of artists, some who have succumbed to the hypersexuality and some who have fought against it. They were very open and honest and really influenced the script a lot. The biggest influences [for the movie] were Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe and what they went through with in terms of their relationship with their mothers and also the whole persona and not being able to take it off and the whole suicidal effects of that.

What made you decide to make the lead role biracial and the mother white?

The character was originally Black. I was adopted and I tracked down my birth mother who was white. I was going through that and learning about the circumstances of my birth. It was pretty devastating. Just really dealing with the fact that if this woman hadn’t given me up, I would have grown up in a home without unconditional love and a mother who resented me. I decided that it was an interesting thing for the character and a way to work out my issues.