It’s fitting that the first image I see when Gina Prince-Bythewood signs on for our video call is a photo of herself as a little girl. She’s running a few minutes behind from her last interview, so she doesn’t quite have her camera set up when we first meet, virtually, face to face.
I asked her the typical Zoom starter question: Are we doing video or no? To which she responded, “Well, you can see me as a little girl or…” before we both burst into chuckles. Instead of finishing that sentence, she materialized on the screen, apologizing for her tardiness.
What appears is the filmmaker smiling ear to ear, wearing a graphic tee and black blazer inside an office adorned with countless framed personal and celebrity photos of Black people. But most noticeably, Black women and girls.
This means so much when you consider that it’s a testament to the work that Prince-Bythewood has been doing throughout her entire three-decade career. There is no doubt: She loves seeing Black women’s images immortalized.
That’s evident in all her films, including “Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Beyond the Lights” and “The Old Guard.” And she doesn’t dance around that; it’s intentional. In fact, throughout much of our conversation, she sinks into the familiar comfort of saying “us” a lot. As in, she does this for us.
Really, as Prince-Bythewood specifies, her work is intertwined with her larger desire to deconstruct the way Black femininity is viewed and portrayed on screen. “I think it’s about reframing what we think of when we say female,” she said. “Definitely started with ‘Love & Basketball’ and that being so autobiographical.”
That 2000 romance centers on a young Black woman (Sanaa Lathan) whose love for basketball is just as profound as her love for the guy next door (Omar Epps). Prince-Bythewood also played ball in school and is married to filmmaker Reggie Rock-Bythewood.
“Knowing that I grew up being told that there was something wrong with me because I loved sports and didn’t want to wear dresses — still don’t love wearing dresses,” Prince-Bythewood continued, “then really digging into those themes with ‘Beyond the Lights’ and the hypersexuality of what we’re told we’re supposed to be in our music. Then to get to ‘The Old Guard’ and then ‘The Woman King’ — these women are incredible warriors.”
It’s true. The fierce characters of “The Woman King” are unlike any women we’ve seen on film before. Well, since the Dora Milaje in 2018’s “The Black Panther,” who were actually inspired by the women portrayed in Prince-Bythewood’s film. But in “The Woman King,” they’re not just a part of the story. They are the story.
Bold, Black, muscular, beautiful, vulnerable and utterly unfuckwithable. They are the real-life Dahomey Amazons, the all-female military regiment that guarded what is now present-day Benin for several centuries until the early 1900s.
Prince-Bythewood and her phenomenal cast and crew — including actors Viola Davis (who’s also a producer), Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim — give these women the reverence they deserve on the big screen. They’re multidimensional and complex, strong AF and illuminated in all their glory through the brilliant work of cinematographer Polly Morgan.
“I wanted to celebrate the athletic body and their frame and the way that they see the world,” Prince-Bythewood said. “Yet that doesn’t take away from them as women, their humanity, the vulnerability, which is an incredible strength in itself.”
She added: “Given so many women are not taught to tap into that innate warrior that we have — we’re always told to tamp it down, to be quieter, to be smaller. Whereas me as an athlete growing up, I was supposed to be big. I want to give that to us.”
And she has. But “The Woman King,” as the filmmaker alluded, is not just about showing the glistening, almost superhuman muscles of Black female protectors of an African kingdom. There’s also a rich story that revolves around their dreams, fears and the politics of a homeland that is shifting away from their control due to intercontinental wars and the Atlantic slave trade.
At the heart of the film, though, are the intimate relationships among the women. Some of them are competitive, like young Nawi (Mbedu) and some of her fellow recruits. Others are nurturing, like Lynch’s veteran warrior, or self-determined, like Davis’ titular character, General Nanisca. There is also an unexpected connection between a mother and her daughter.
“The phrase immediately came to mind: intimately epic,” Prince-Bythewood said, reflecting on when she first read the script and grasped its many layers. She wanted to “start with those relationships. Because at the end of the day, all the bigness is great and beautiful. But it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t care about the characters.”
That means making even the elaborate battle scenes — of which there are plenty — come across as purposefully and viscerally as the quieter moments when the women are exchanging personal stories or dancing in celebration or as an embrace of their authority. This isn’t a film that solely rests in a blockbuster action space (not like there’s anything wrong with that).
Rather, “The Woman King” thrives on both its personal dimensions and extravagant cinematic vitality. It shows a filmmaker at the top of her game and the many women she’s teamed with who eagerly pushed themselves to their highest potential throughout this tight, 63-day shoot in South Africa.
“I love my cast so much,” Prince-Bythewood said with a big smile.
That includes John Boyega, whose role as King Ghezo (based, like Nawi, upon a real person) is small but significant. Essentially, he’s often there to assert his ruling power over Dahomey (and dominance over his many wives), yet extend his profound admiration for the women he put in charge of defending his kingdom.
When Prince-Bythewood met with Boyega for the role, she was struck by his commitment to elevating the women among him. “He is used to lead roles and he literally said, ‘I want to use my power to help you guys get this made,’” she recalled. “‘I want to be there to support you.’ That never happens.”
This feeling of support has reverberated across the production. “Oftentimes you finish the scene and people go back to the trailers,” Prince-Bythewood added. “A lot of people didn’t leave set on this one. They wanted to watch each other work.”
Honestly, who could blame them? The set itself, by production designer Akin McKenzie, is absolutely stunning and immediately immerses the audience, as well as the cast, in the story.
“I wanted to give the actors a 360-world to play in,” the director said. “I could see the 1800s. I don’t want you to look up and see a car or a plane overhead. I want you to be in there with your feet in that red earth and it’d be real.”
“Akin did such incredible work and it was amazing to be inside that set because the outside world just kind of fell off.”
To call “The Woman King” gargantuan would almost be to understate it. It’s a revelation, and greater than anything Prince-Bythewood has ever done before. But it was an opportunity that she had been preparing for for a long while.
“I would say in the last 10 years I’ve had a desire to do a big movie like this for us,” she said. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies. We haven’t gotten something like that.”
As the filmmaker has stated in several interviews in the past, she had her sights set on a story about Haitian General Toussaint Louverture for years. One of her two sons also shares his name.
“[The Louverture movie] was a story that had been percolating in my head that I wanted to do,” Prince-Bythewood said. “I also had a desire to play in the bigger sandbox, certainly what ‘Old Guard’ allowed me to do. Once you’re there, you just want to keep going bigger.”
“The Woman King” gave her the opportunity to be in that sandbox “in a way that we’ve never had the opportunity to do — except for ‘Black Panther,’ of course,” she continued. “I just felt like all my work up until this point led me to this moment where I felt like I knew how to do this film in the right way.”
Prince-Bythewood actually felt this way five years ago when she first came across the project, with Davis already attached, the same way many of us hear about upcoming films: through an article online.
And she felt a kind of way that she wasn’t approached about it back then. “I literally said to myself, ‘Why didn’t they come to me?’” she recalled.
Then they did, but there was no script. When she asked them to come back to her when they had one — what ended up being Mario Bello and Dana Stevens’ gorgeous narrative — it was just a year and a half ago, when Prince-Bythewood had decided to take a breather after “The Old Guard.”
But after reading the script, the filmmaker, as ready as ever, knew she had to seize the opportunity. “It was an absolute,” she said. “‘I have to do this movie.’ Not a ‘I want to.’ I have to.”
She remembered her promise to take time off, though, and decided to go through another important channel in her decision-making process. “I sent the script to my husband, and he read it immediately,” the director said. “I still have the texts where he said, ‘This is your next movie.’ That was everything because I needed their support to go on this journey.”
That began with Prince-Bythewood poring over “stacks” of books, journals and documentaries to delve into the lives of the Dahomey Amazons, and hiring consultants to help authenticate the film. What she found, unsurprisingly, was that a lot of material was written about the women with little respect for their humanity.
“So much of the things written about the Dahomey and these women — whether it be the books or articles — were by the complete Western gaze and eye,” Prince-Bythewood said, “and written by people who had an absolute incentive to dehumanize us, make us seem like savages.”
But she and her team were determined “to sift through that to get to the truth.”
As a result, Prince-Bythewood has made her opus. Even she looks back on it and says, “The film is what I intended.”
That continued determination to illuminate Black female humanity paid off in a way that only a female director, specifically a Black woman, could ensure. She infuses the film with as much respect and love that she has for herself and other Black women — packed with all their complexities, joy, camaraderie, heartache, ferocity and self-adoration.
“I hope that my work is starting to do that,” Prince-Bythewood said, “that women can look up on screen and see themselves reflected in a way that’s inspiring to them.”
“The Woman King” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in theaters on Sept. 16.
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Try Guys Will Edit Ned Fulmer Out Of Future Videos After Cheating Scandal
The YouTube comedy quartet The Try Guys, now down to three after firing founding member Ned Fulmer for cheating on his wife, said they’re editing Fulmer out of unreleased videos and trashing others “due to his involvement.”
In a video uploaded Monday, the group’s three remaining members explained Fulmer’s departure to their nearly 8 million YouTube subscribers and sought to provide what member Zach Kornfeld said was “some transparency into our decision making.”
“Ned Fulmer is no longer working with The Try Guys,” Kornfeld said in the clip, alluding to the flood of publicity about Fulmer’s workplace affair with a producer.
From cooking without a recipe to eating everything on a fast food chain’s menu, The Try Guys’ stunts have amassed a huge YouTube audience. Fans noticed in recent days that Fulmer was absent in the group’s new uploads and had been erased from older clips.
“There are several videos that we’ve deemed as fully unreleasable,” Kornfeld explained. “You will never see them, and that is due to his involvement. And that’s a decision that has cost us lots of money. We will not be able to recoup that money, but it’s a decision we stand by proudly.”
Member Keith Habersberger explained that the crisis escalated when people saw Fulmer “engaging in public romantic behavior” with a colleague over Labor Day weekend. Fulmer admitted to the affair when other members of the group confronted him, leading to his exit, public apology and a statement from his wife.
This “was obviously very shocking to us,” Habersberger said in the video. “We just want you to know that we had no idea this was going on. All of that information was just as shocking to us as all of this has been for you this week.”
Member Eugene Lee Yang, whose scowl during the video betrayed a deep frustration that went viral on Twitter, explained that a three-week review of Fulmer’s actions included lawyers, human resources advisers and publicists. He assured fans they “refused to sweep things under the rug.”
“This is not who we are,” Yang said.
“We were obviously very shocked and deeply hurt by all of this,” said Yang. “This is someone who we’d built a brand and a company with for eight years. We feel saddened, not just personally, but on behalf of our staff and our fans who believed in us.”
Kornfeld added that they’re “losing a friend.”
“I’m sure many of you feel the same way,” he added. “It’s weird. We’re sorry that this ever happened and we don’t know what more to say.”
The group said they signed documents on Sept. 16 removing Fulmer as a manager and employee of their production company, 2nd Try.
Stephen Colbert Gives Trump’s Ugly ‘Death Wish’ Threat A Brutal Reality Check
A Trump spokesperson later clarified that it was a “political” death wish. But Colbert wasn’t moved.
“Okay, but it’s never great when you have to clarify that your death wish is a metaphor,” Colbert said, then offered up an example to show the absurdity of it: “I want this mob to march on my opponent’s house. Figuratively. Which is metaphorically at 471 Pine Cone Road, and leave a severed horse’s head in his bed ― as an allegory for his head.”
The “Late Show” host also spotted some “overt racism” in Trump’s latest post in his Monday monologue:
Florence Pugh Rocks Another Sheer Valentino Look After Nipple Hoopla
The “Don’t Worry Darling” actor stepped out at Paris Fashion Week in a stunning two-piece sheer ensemble embellished with gold sequins. She wore nude briefs beneath the Valentino skirt and nothing under the matching top, finishing off the outfit with gold jewelry, bronzed makeup and a wet hair look.
In July, Pugh wore a see-through Valentino design to the brand’s haute couture show in Rome, attracting negative and sexist comments about her exposed breasts.
Responding to the reaction at the time, Pugh told critics to “grow up.”
“Listen, I knew when I wore that incredible Valentino dress that there was no way there wouldn’t be a commentary on it. Whether it be negative or positive, we all knew what we were doing,” she wrote on Instagram at the time.
“It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time a woman will hear what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what’s worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be,” she wrote.
“I’m very grateful that I grew up in a household with very strong, powerful, curvy women. We were raised to find power in the creases of our body. To be loud about being comfortable. It has always been my mission in this industry to say ‘fuck it and fuck that’ whenever anyone expects my body to morph into an opinion of what’s hot or sexually attractive. I wore that dress because I know.”
“Fuckingfreethefuckingnipple,” she signed off the post.
Both looks were put together by Pugh’s stylist, Rebecca Corbin Murray.
Here’s Why Cecily Strong Was Absent From ‘SNL’ Opening Credits
Season 48 of “SNL,” which premiered Saturday, got off to a rollicking start thanks to host Miles Teller and musical guest Kendrick Lamar. Still, Strong was notably absent from both the show and its opening credits, prompting many to question whether she’d departed the comedy show without fanfare.
Turns out that’s not the case. An “SNL” cast member since 2012, the comedian is currently appearing in the play “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” which opened last week at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
“SNL” creator Lorne Michaels is a co-producer of the one-woman comedy, which concludes its run Oct. 23. Entertainment Weekly and TV Insider confirm that Strong is expected to resume her “SNL” duties in New York shortly thereafter.
Fans’ concerns regarding Strong’s future on “SNL,” however, were justified. Michaels previously hinted that Season 48 would be a “transition year,” and he wasn’t kidding.
Cast members Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon and Kyle Mooney collectively announced their exit from the series at the conclusion of Season 47, which wrapped in May. Last month, it was confirmed that Aristotle Athari, Alex Moffat, Chris Redd and Melissa Villaseñor were also leaving, bringing the tally of departing cast members to eight.
As a 10-season “SNL” veteran, Strong is one of the longest-running cast members in the series’ current lineup.
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Will Smith Returns To The Big Screen In Gripping First ‘Emancipation’ Trailer
Will Smith’s next film will be released this year after all, with Apple Studios announcing that “Emancipation” is arriving in theaters next month, just in time for the upcoming awards season.
The historical drama from “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua will now open in theaters on Dec. 2 and be made available to stream on Dec. 9, contrary to reports that claimed the film would be delayed until 2023.
“Emancipation” is Smith’s first major project since he walked onstage during the Oscars ceremony in March and slapped presenter Chris Rock over a joke the comedian made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Since then, Smith has apologized for his actions and voluntarily resigned from the Academy, which banned him from attending the Oscars for the next decade. However, he can still be nominated for an award should his Hollywood peers deem him worthy of one.
The release of “Emancipation,” which completed production just a month before the infamous awards show moment, was initially delayed in the fallout from Smith’s altercation with Rock, upending plans for a major awards season push behind Smith’s performance, which is already drawing praise.
But Apple Studios, which acquired the film for a record-breaking $120 million, has apparently changed course — and the gripping first trailer makes a powerful case as to why.
Inspired by real-life events, “Emancipation” stars Smith as Peter, a man who escapes slavery in Louisiana, journeys north and joins the Union Army during the Civil War. Photos of his whipping scars, including one known as “The Scourged Back,” become some of the most widely circulated at the time and ultimately help expose the brutality of slavery to the world.
The trailer unveils Smith’s powerful performance in the film, which also stars Ben Foster, Steven Ogg and Charmaine Bingwa.
“I will not be afraid. What can a mere man do to me?” Smith says in the clip amid flashes of Civil War battlefields and his character evading slave hunters through the swamplands. “I will look in triumph at my enemies.”
During a private screening of the film over the weekend, Smith gave his first comments about the period drama to a crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery. I never wanted to show us like that, you know, and then this picture came along, and this is not a film about slavery,” Smith said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience.”
The screening was the “King Richard” star’s first major public appearance since he broke his monthslong silence earlier this summer in an apology video regarding the Oscars slap.
Watch the trailer for “Emancipation” below.
John Oliver Reveals ‘Super F**ked Up’ History Museums Hope You Never Learn
Some of the world’s leading museums are filled with plundered and stolen goods ― and John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight” has had enough.
“If you are ever looking for a missing artifact, nine times out of 10 it’s in the British Museum,” he pointed out. “It’s basically the world’s largest ‘lost and found,’ with both ‘lost’ and ‘found’ in the heaviest possible quotation marks there.”
A prime example: the Elgin Marbles, aka the Parthenon Marbles, taken from Greece in the 19th century by Lord Elgin and currently in the British Museum.
“They weren’t lost. They were taken, which is clearly worse. It’s like being unable to find the last puzzle piece and learning that you didn’t actually misplace it,” he said. “A British earl snuck into your house, stole it, and then sold it to a museum over 1,000 miles away.”
Oliver slammed the “unbelievably patronizing” arguments of those who defend the British Museum and other repositories of stolen goods. Some claim the objects were taken in a different time ― and that means there’s a different context to consider.
But, as Oliver pointed out, British Prime Minister William Gladstone in 1868 said he “deeply lamented” objects looted from Ethiopia by the British Army and called for their return.
“He was saying that in 1868!” Oliver said. “We didn’t even know how to fix a UTI without leeches back then, but we knew that raiding other countries for their shit was ‘deeply lamentable,’ which is British for ‘super fucked up.’”
See his full takedown below. And be sure to stick around for a tour of the “Payback Museum,” featuring Kumail Nanjiani:
Bella Hadid Stuns As Dress Is Sprayed Onto Her Body At Paris Fashion Week
Supermodel Bella Hadid stunned audiences at Paris Fashion Week on Friday when she stood on the catwalk topless, clad in only underwear, as a dress was sprayed onto her bare skin.
The 25-year-old moved slowly while three people used spray guns to coat her with a white, weblike material. Then, a fourth person sculpted the substance into an off-the-shoulder dress, and complemented it by cutting a high slit by her legs.
Hadid then walked the runway in the newly created fabric dress to close out the Coperni show for their spring-summer 2023 line at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
Coperni, a Parisian fashion label, posted a video of Hadid’s dress formation on Instagram. The magical moment was viewed more than 273,000 times, and went viral across the internet.
Coperni owners Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant told Vogue before the show on Friday that the inspiration for the dress came from wanting to merge fashion and technology.
“It’s our celebration of women’s silhouettes from centuries past,” Vaillant said. “And we wanted to update our aesthetic in a more grown-up and scientific way, too,” Meyer added.
The spray-on fabric used in the dress creation was developed by London-based fabric technology company Fabrican, according to The New York Times. After the fabric is sprayed, it hardens into wearable material.
Hadid thanked Coperni and the fashion duo on Instagram, saying “I love you,” and there was “no rehearsal, no nothing, just passion.”
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