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.
BMWK: What 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.
BMWK: 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].
BMWK: 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.
BMWK: 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.
BMWK: 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.
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.
BMWK: 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.