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UCLA

Writing 'The Secret Life of Bees'

UCLA alumna Gina Prince-Bythewood almost missed her chance to write the script for the new movie everyone's buzzing about.

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By Sandy Siegel '72

Published Oct 16, 2008 9:36 AM


art

The "dream cast" of The Secret Life of Bees.

For writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood '91, her latest film seems like it was meant to, well, bee. After all, adapting the best-selling novel The Secret Life of Bees for the big screen was a honey of an assignment — from the moving story set in the South in 1964 to the mostly female dream cast that includes Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning. But the project almost got away from her.

"Bees was sent to me about six or seven years ago, before it came out as a book," says Prince-Bythewood, lauded in 2000 for her debut film, Love & Basketball. "I had done back-to-back films, [I was] about to have a baby, and I just couldn't see myself sitting down and writing a script from scratch. So I just tossed it in my closet and never even read it."

Flash forward a few years. A Bees movie was in pre-production, and Prince-Bythewood felt stung — another director was making "her" film. But "miraculously," that adaptation was scrapped, and she was approached again. This time she signed on — thankfully.

"I do think, now, everything happens for a reason. I don't think I was probably emotionally ready five years ago," she admits. "I'm a much better filmmaker now. And Dakota Fanning wasn't old enough, and I can't picture anyone else in that role but her. Same with all my women."

The story of a troubled white girl finding refuge with three African-American sisters who run a honey business, The Secret Life of Bees opens Oct. 17 — and it's already getting Oscar buzz. The South Carolina-set tale, which also stars Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo, was shot last winter in North Carolina on an $11-million budget. The timing of the 34-day shoot wasn't lost on the cast and crew — it was election primary season, when Barack Obama won big in South Carolina.

"There was just a great excitement on set," Prince-Bythewood says. "It was such a great way to talk to the actors and kind of tie the feelings of the time, when the Civil Rights Act was signed — that feeling of hope that change was happening — [to] the feeling you have now with the possibilities of Barack getting the nomination. It was really a great emotional tie.

"Then also, we shot on Dr. [Martin Luther] King's birthday. ... We looked around and [saw] how diverse everything was. We were kind of the dream that Dr. King talked about."

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