Legendary director and two-time ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood honoree Gina Prince-Bythewood accepted her 2023 honor on March 9, crediting the annual gathering of Black women making moves in front of the camera and behind the scenes as an essential space.
Presented and introduced by her The Woman King leading star Viola Davis, Prince-Bythewood used the platform to address some of the discourse that has been swirling surrounding her historical epic.
“The historically inaccurate critique online about the Agojie and the Dahomey Kingdom is staggering and it’s fed by the historically inaccurate narratives written by colonizers with an incentive to dehumanize us,” Prince-Bythewood said, noting the ongoing critique of her film The Woman King and its subject matter. “So many of us are taught that the tenants of our history are enslavement, victimization, and savagery. Our connection to our true past has been cut off by the loop.”
“The famous novelist Chinua [Achebe] wrote, ‘until the lion learns to write, the stories will always glorify the hunter.’ But the beauty of The Woman King is that, for the first time, the lionesses got to write their own story.”
Describing filming her historical epic as “a glorious and profound experience,” Prince-Bythewood went on to praise the work that she, Davis, and the rest of the cast and crew did to shed light on the true history of the Dahomey Kingdom’s warrior women.
“We told an intimately epic story about us Black women, our strength, our beauty, our softness, our heroism, our complexity, our pain, our joy, and our mess. We got to show the incredible breadth of our humanity, the power of our sisterhood. And we got to start healing our roots.”
While healing those roots, Prince-Bythwood came to some important realizations about the manner in which Black women back each other up, and how spaces like ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood serve to bolster that support system.
“Now, more than ever, we work in an industry that too often does not see the value in our stories in our characters in our work,” she said. “We have to hustle for our worth in rooms where we’re the only, and yet still we find a way to be excellent.”
“Look at the work of our incredible honorees today. Look at the work of those around you next to you.”
The director credited the event with placing actress Lashana Lynch on her radar and eventually as a leading star in her film.
“I recently spoke about the deep chasm between black excellence and recognition. There is no chasm here,” she said of the annual luncheon.
“We need this room. We need this energy because we take this feeling out into the industry and the world as our armor. This room must always be a safe space. We cannot afford to ever ‘other’ each other. We can compete with each other without depleting each other.”
See the full ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon HERE.