Several years ago, writer and director Joey Soloway asked me if I wanted to participate in Girl on Girl, a film screening and conversation series curated by women, featuring women filmmakers. I was thrilled, and I immediately knew which movie I wanted to screen—Love & Basketball, written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. I have a bit of a phobia of public speaking, but more than that, I was nervous about meeting the film’s director. The weeks leading up to the event were fraught, to put it mildly. I was just a writer and college professor living in a small town in Indiana. I wasn’t well versed in spending time with filmmakers and actors. I wanted to have a dynamic conversation with Prince-Bythewood about her work, but I worried I would start babbling incoherent praise before I could formulate an interesting question. In the end, my worst fears did not come to pass. It was a wonderful event, well attended. And I was reminded, yet again, of why this movie has captured audiences’ hearts and minds since its release in 2000.
Gina Prince-Bythewood loves Black people, and you can see that love reflected in her impressive body of work in both television and film. She started out as a writer on A Different World and is responsible for the screenplays and direction of The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014), in addition to Love & Basketball, as well as for cocreating the 2017 limited series Shots Fired. She also demonstrated her range by directing the graphic-novel adaptation The Old Guard (2020) for Netflix.
She tells stories about us that matter, that are entertaining but with depth. We see her love for Black people in the nuances of her writing and directing. She sees us, as our best, imperfect selves. She sees us as worthy of all good things. She allows us to be strong and vulnerable, powerful and hungry. We see the full intensity of this love in Love & Basketball, her first feature film, which is, at its heart, a passionate love letter to basketball and friendship and Black love and ambition. A boy and a girl grow up next door to each other. A boy and a girl both love basketball and tolerate each other and then like each other and then fall in love and fall apart and eventually find their way back together, where they belong. What might have been merely a familiar story in another director’s hands became so much more under Prince-Bythewood’s direction.
“It is no small feat that Love & Basketball tells a love story without requiring a Faustian bargain from its heroine or its audience.”
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