The Secret’s Out

Gina Prince-Bythewood, screenwriter and director of The Secret Life of Bees, discusses her latest film and what it takes to change black film for the better.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Gina Prince-Bythewood: I was so blown away by the story. I got to the line of the book where Lily says “I’m unlovable,” and it that was the moment that I said I had to tell this story. And then these Boatwright sisters. I’d never seen black women like that, especially in the 60s. And I felt like if I had a chance to bring them to life it would really be a gift. I just didn’t want to pass that up. 

SEY: What challenges did you have to deal with when adapting the book into film? 

GPB: The toughest thing was that the book is from Lily’s point of view, so I thought how can I visualize that? And also there’s so many great things in the book—what don’t I put in? There’s just that great responsibility and really fear of not wanting to mess it up. I mean people love this book. It’s not just, “I like it.” They love it. So, I think what was beneficial to me was that I loved the book, as well and it really served as my Bible, as a personal blueprint. There was no reason for me to stray too far.

SEY: You once said that directing films provides a sense of freedom that television doesn’t really allow. With a film like BEES where there’s already a setup, do you still feel that sense of freedom?

GPB: You know, because I was able to put so much of myself into this, because I saw so much of myself in Lily and also June, I didn’t feel that restriction. This case—the book—was just such a great gift. To write something from scratch and direct it, when it’s 100 percent your vision, you know, there’s nothing greater. But, this was pretty close. I fell in love with these characters when I read the book. I know I keep using the word, but it was a gift. To be able to be the one to give them life was a special feeling.