Right at magic hour, as the California sky was turning pink and blue, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, reminisced with her cast about their magnificent experience making the beloved rom-com Love & Basketball. The LA Film Festival welcomed the director, along with Glenndon Chatman, Omar Epps, Dennis Haysbert, Sanaa Lathan, Kyla Pratt, Issa Rae and Alfre Woodard for an outdoor screening of the film 15 years after its release.
Prince-Bythewood was only 28 years old when she embarked on the challenge of writing and directing her first feature film. “I decided to write this because it was a personal story, a lot of it is autobiographical.” Once she sold the script to New Line Cinema, the cast seemed to magically align itself. Prince-Bythewood managed to attach stars like Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert and Tyra Banks for secondary rolls, but the lead roll of Monica proved to be the hardest. “I knew I was never going to cast someone that didn’t play ball for the part of Monica, it wasn’t going to happen because it was important that it was believable. Sanaa did a reading of the film and she was brilliant but she never played ball so I kept looking. I saw 700 people for it and couldn’t find my protagonist. So then I thought let’s give her a shot; we hired a professional coach to train her for three months but I was still unsure of my decision. My husband Reggie Rock finally asked, ‘is this a love story or a basketball movie?’ and I realized you can fake a jump shot but you can’t fake a close-up. I gave the part to Sanaa. She considers it abuse, I consider it proving yourself.”
Alfre Woodard joked: “I was attracted to the film because I wanted to play basketball but Gina wouldn’t let me. She told me I had to be the downer in it.” After the laughter of the audience subsided she confessed: “the thing that attracted all of us to this film was that we read this piece of writing that was so smart; you don’t get smart writing in this business. So when I got this piece I was like—Oh my God, invite me to this meal! And then I realized it was written by a young woman, and a sister! It was the most beautiful amazing thing. We would all sign up for it again and again. My darling [Gina], you’ve been such a gift. It was like we all had this baby sister we were so proud of, we wanted to score because you deserved it.”
As the team got emotional the audience roared up in a mixture of nostalgia and excitement. Prince-Bythewood expressed her gratitude: “As an artist it’s what you dream about, that your film can have longevity. The fact that 15 years later, you all came out to see it is pretty phenomenal!”
Lorena Alvarado / Film Independent Blogger