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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Katie Walsh

What to stream: Enjoy prior works of 'Woman King' director Gina Prince-Bythewood

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical warrior action epic “The Woman King” hits theaters this weekend. After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, it kicks off the fall movie season, and it’s sitting pretty on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment with a cool 100% perfect score. Viola Davis stars in this film based on the Agojie, the female warriors of the Dahomey kingdom in West Africa (they are also the inspiration for the Dora Milaje warriors of Wakanda in “Black Panther”). Alongside Davis, who stars as a general training the new generation of Agojie warriors, the film also features Thosu Mbedu, “No Time To Die” star Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and John Boyega.

While patiently waiting for “The Woman King,” take the time to revisit the filmography of Prince-Bythewood, who has steadily built a solid body of excellent, and varied, work over the past 20 years within an industry that isn’t always hospitable to women of color. In fact, in 2020, Prince-Bythewood became the first Black woman to helm a big budget action film based on a comic book with the Netflix movie “The Old Guard,” starring Charlize Theron. Based on the graphic novels about a secretive group of immortal warriors, “The Old Guard” was a chance for Prince-Bythewood to hone her action chops prior to “The Woman King,” and she delivered a film laden with fascinating characters, mythological lore and excellent action sequences. Stream it on Netflix.

Prior to “The Old Guard,” she made a splash with the music industry romantic drama “Beyond the Lights,” a riff on “The Bodyguard” starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a pop star who falls in love with a local cop (Nate Parker) who saves her from a suicide attempt. Minnie Driver co-stars as her controlling stage mother. Anchored by great performances and an emotional authenticity, “Beyond the Lights” told a great love story while casting a critical eye at the manipulations of the pop music machine. Stream it on Tubi or Kanopy or rent it online elsewhere.

Prince-Bythewood’s previous film, six years earlier, was “The Secret Life of Bees” (2008), a family drama set in 1960s South Carolina, adapted from the 2001 novel by Sue Monk Kid. Starring Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys, the story follows a young white woman who escapes an abusive father thanks to the Black women in her life. Stream it on HBO Max.

Also available on HBO Max, as well as Netflix, is Prince-Bythewood’s lauded directorial debut, the 2000 sports romance “Love & Basketball,” starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps and produced by Spike Lee. This film, about two aspiring basketball players who fall for each other while pursuing their dreams, made a splash upon its debut and cemented Prince-Bythewood as a filmmaker to watch, and it continues to pop up on lists of the best romantic films and best basketball films to this day.

Lathan and Prince-Bythewood also teamed up on the 2017 Fox miniseries “Shots Fired,” about an investigation into the racially charged police shooting of an unarmed teenager. Prince-Bythewood collaborated with her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood (whom she met on the set of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”) on the miniseries in order to address the real-life incidents of police shootings in the United States. The miniseries is available to stream on Hulu.


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