In many ways, Gina Prince-Bythewood's entire career has been leading up to The Woman King. The filmmaker made her debut with 2000's Love & Basketball, a movie she intended to be a Black When Harry Met Sally... The film evolved into something more autobiographical, using Prince-Bythewood's own history as an athlete as the foundation for the story of a ball player (Sanaa Lathan) who falls for the boy next door, but still achieved her original objective: It gave a generation of Black women a chance to see themselves as the lead in a romantic comedy.
With 2020's The Old Guard, Prince-Bythewood made history as the first Black woman to direct a major comic book movie, a big-budget Netflix release starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne as immortal assassins. It was a natural transition for her to The Woman King, a historical war epic in which Viola Davis stars as the leader of the all-female Agojie warriors. Once again, the movie is the director's chance to center Black characters in a genre she loves.
"In the last 10 years, I have been really focused on, 'I want our Braveheart.' I love that movie, and I've never seen myself reflected in a film like that," she explains. "I still feel like it's a miracle that this film got made."
MORE: With 'The Woman King,' Gina Prince-Bythewood Got to Make Her Own 'Braveheart' (Exclusive)
Below, Prince-Bythewood shares with A.frame six films that have most influenced her throughout her career — including, of course, Braveheart.
Written and Directed by: James L. Brooks
Brilliant writing, brilliant character work. Broadcast News is the type of film where you could be laughing hysterically, and then, be so incredibly moved. Holly Hunter gives an incredible performance. It's just so smart. And I reference lines from it all the time because the writing is so brilliant. That film is absolutely my number one.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese
Goodfellas is a perfect movie. It's like film school, watching that film, in the way that Scorsese uses his camera to tell the story, to reveal character. Brilliant acting. Brilliant structure. It's a perfect movie.
Directed by: Steve James | Written by: Steve James and Frederick Marx
I've seen it a hundred times. I know how it ends, and I'm still so invested. I think it changed the game for documentaries and made them commercial. It's a brilliant documentary. It's a beautiful story, and a heartbreaking story. I was an athlete, I have two boys who are athletes; so, I feel so much for that film.
Directed by: Tony Scott | Written by: Brian Helgeland
I was so enamored with the relationship between Denzel [Washington] and Dakota [Fanning]'s characters. There is something so heightened and beautiful about that anchor their relationship gave to a film that was telling a very violent story on the surface. I used that film as an emotional template, certainly, for The Old Guard. But it's so much about the performances. That Dakota at age nine gave that performance? I will never get over how stunning it was. And to see Denzel in that role, that was something different than what he had done prior to that. It's a film that I revisit, and feel the same every time at the end. The ending continues to blow me away.
Directed by: Mel Gibson | Written by: Randall Wallace
Braveheart is a phenomenal historical epic that moves me every time. It's such a classic film, yet it did things differently. The scope of it, the emotion within it, the love story threaded through it so beautifully — that is a classic film that gives you absolutely everything that you want in that type of genre.
Directed by: Paul Feig | Written by: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
I remember sitting in the theater, laughing hysterically, literally, doubled over and saying to myself, 'Why is this experience so rare, to look up on the screen and see a film like this with these women?' It really struck me in that moment, how I was craving to see stories like that, and how I was starving and didn't know I was until I saw it.
It's hysterically funny, and I cried in it as well! You just connected with that relationship between the friends. And the discovery of Melissa McCarthy, props to them for finding her, recognizing her talent, and giving her a platform, which absolutely launched her into the stratosphere. It's such a simple, personal premise that became this incredible experience — not even a movie, it was an experience. I love that when work can do that, take you out of your seat in your theater and make you feel like you're inside that world with them.