I ,Too, Sing Hollywood (Part 2) 

Four women on race, art and making movies

Wednesday, Oct 18 2000


Smith: But on the level of studio producers and development execs, do you really think it matters if you’re pitching to a woman or a man?

Prince-Bythewood: Oh, completely. For instance, Gale Ann Hurd. Look at the projects she’s been involved with and the strong women in those movies. I know she had a hand in that. Women like that are who I gravitate toward, because they’re up-front in saying, "We don’t want to do the same crap." I’m not getting that from male execs. Only one actually — Tom Rothman at Fox, who’s an amazing guy. But otherwise, the most exciting meetings have been with women who are saying, We’re getting power, let’s do something different.

Smith: I know a lot of great women working in the studios, I do. But overall, the product coming out of studios . . .

Prince-Bythewood: Oh, it’s crap. Don’t get me wrong; we’re in trouble.

Lemmons: But I think the wave of filmmakers coming up is going to change the product so that it doesn’t matter who the executive is. They’re going to see that it’s cool to green-light this movie, because Love & Basketball did make money, Eve’s Bayou did make money . . .

Weekly: Something we hear constantly is that in order for any film to be considered a good financial risk, it has to be viable in the international market, which black movies supposedly are not. How does that notion affect the way you conceive a movie, create it, pitch it?

Lemmons: God. How often have we heard that one? How you pitch it is the big one. Definitely. I learned a lot when I was running around pitching Eve’s Bayou, and they’d ask who I thought the audience for the film was. I’d say African-American college graduates, and the room would go dead. I learned to say, "Well, it’s the Waiting To Exhale audience," and they’d go, ch-ching!

Prince-Bythewood: The word universal is very important.

Lemmons: Yes. You have to say to them, This is a movie for everybody; just like you related to the script, anybody can relate to the movie.

Smith: There was a luncheon during the Democratic Convention where a bunch of filmmakers sat down with editors from Newsweek, and there was an editor who was a Hong Kong correspondent who talked about how she was confused about why black filmmakers are told that our films are not commercially viable overseas. She’d just attended a black film festival in either Hong Kong or Singapore, and it was packed every night. And she said it wasn’t the shoot-’em-up, hip-hop genre that was popular — it was the family movies, the character studies.

Prince-Bythewood: With Love & Basketball, after we had the first screening at Sundance, everyone was hyped. I remember the guy in charge of foreign distribution was like, This could definitely play overseas, because women’s basketball is huge overseas. But during the conversation, he said I had to cut 20 minutes from the second half of the movie — because overseas audiences don’t like long movies — and add more to the sex scenes. I’m like, There is no more. It’s not like I trimmed it — there is no more. And then he was like, Well, we’ll try to sell it. After that I got the same thing: It just doesn’t sell overseas. I do not understand why someone in London wouldn’t get it. Or Japan. Black culture is huge there. And that’s why you start to think, honestly: Is it a conspiracy? Because it’s not even like anyone is trying to change it.

Smith: I wish someone would just really look at the numbers.

Lemmons: You can actually get the information. I’ve been going to the Summit for several years now . . .

Weekly: Could you explain what that is for the readers?

Lemmons: The Black Filmmakers Foundation started the Summit, and it’s expanded beyond filmmakers. It’s filmmakers, people in television, producers, executives — it’s like the hundred hottest people. It feels like being in a room of the best and brightest that’s out there. They bring in Internet people, black people that you don’t even know about that are out there running corporations. They bring them down to the Summit [at a Southern California retreat], and one year we did a study on the international market and the list of black movie stars that sell foreign — which is incredibly large and which Hollywood overlooks. They overlook this information, which is factual. You can get a sheet, print it out and bring it into a meeting. Because I think it’s a myth. I don’t know why people wanna believe it.

Smith: I can think of a few reasons people wanna believe it.

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