Why Gina Prince-Bythewood Puts ‘Warrior Black Women’ On-Screen
KIKI LAYNE, GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD and CHARLIZE THERON / AIMEE SPINKS

A Black woman warrior in an action film directed by Love & Basketball’s Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne? Where do I sign up?

There’s no imagining it: the future is fierce and female in Hollywood.

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Based on the graphic novel saga of the same name, The Old Guard follows a pack of centuries-old immortals who just won’t die. But that might change. Just as they discover a newly awakened immortal, an enemy trying to replicate their powers may threaten their freedom. And, at the center of it all, is Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne as lead warrior Andy and newbie Nile, respectively.

During the virtual 2020 ESSENCE Festival of Culture, TV personality Gia Peppers checked in with Prince-Bythewood, who has been directing fearless Black women for 20 years now, and Layne, whom many saw in If Beale Street Could Talk. Here’s what we learned about The Old Guard, which begins streaming July 10 on Netflix:

On being drawn to The Old Guard

Gina Prince-Bythewood: “The fact that there’s just this dope story that kept surprising me but it was about two women at the center and one being a young Black female hero, which we never get to see, and knowing that we will be able to bring this character to life.”

On why KiKi Layne was the right fit for the character Nile…

Prince-Bythewood: “She just had this innate strength, an innate vulnerability that was Nile and her chops were just next level,” she explained. “Just she and I talking about what this film could mean for her, for me, for us as a community . . . and me hearing her and believing and trusting that she would put in the work.”

THE OLD GUARD (L to R) KIKI LAYNE, Director GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD on the set of THE OLD GUARD. Cr. AMY SPINKS/NETFLIX © 2020

On what made her connect to Nile…

KiKi Layne: “I had no experience doing a film of this size or this genre, but listening to Gina speak, what she was committed to… was the hearts of these characters and in their depth and really getting to the core of them. And I’m like, ‘that’s something I can latch on to, that’s something I know that I could bring’ . . . [and with] her belief I would be able to tackle the physicality and all of that as well, I felt even more encouraged.”

On how The Old Guard is special…

Layne: “It’s just special to see what we all know is true, what we all know is fact: that these type of superhero Black women exist every single day. These warrior Black women exist every single day, but we just haven’t seen it on the big screen. And, so, I’m just grateful to be given this opportunity to represent that truth that Hollywood has tried to ignore and gloss over.”

THE OLD GUARD – KIKI LAYNE as NILE in THE OLD GUARD. Cr. AMY SPINKS/NETFLIX © 2020

On why having courageous and bold women characters is important…

Prince-Bythewood: “I grew up an athlete, the women around me my whole life are like that. They’re just fighters. They’re tough. They’re ambitious. In this film, and, really in all of my work, just reframe what it means to be a female. . . Let women know, and certainly Black women know, that we have that inside of us. Courage has no gender; badass has no gender.”

On what Prince-Bythewood would have told herself 20 years ago…

Prince-Bythewood: “Making movies about Black women are absolutely the hardest thing to do in Hollywood, but I’ve been up for the fight. In my next two projects, that I’ve just signed the deals for, focus on Black women, and these are big, big joints. They weren’t a fight and that’s a phenomenal thing. I would love to be able to go back and tell younger Gina that it will get easier at some point and, for the first time in my career, it is.

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