We caught up with the groundbreaking creator to find out what attracted her to this particular project and how her unique lens helped set the tone for the season.
“I love Marvel. I love Marvel characters. I love Marvel films. It’s a world I was eager to get into so when the call came about this project it was a pretty easy decision. It felt different. I love that the script was dealing with teenagers and I loved that young black boy was a hero. It’s not something we usually see and this was before Black Panther,” she explains.
“I have two teenage boys and they have been very vocal about the fact that they don’t see themselves reflected in the kinds of movies and projects they love. For me to have the opportunity to put someone who looks like them on TV being a hero was absolutely a factor in me taking this on.”
Even though Gina Prince-Bythewood only directed the show’s pilot, she plays a crucial role in setting the tone for the entire series.
“I love doing pilots because it’s on me to set the tone and the look and the cast. I love that as opposed to coming in and having to execute someone else’s vision. That’s just not me,” she says. “I pride myself on performance because at the end of the day that is what is most important when you’re making art is that you’re making people care. I’m very picky about what I do because I have to believe in it and I have to care about it by itself before I can put it out into the world. I’m proud of my ability to say no which is hard in this industry.”
The Love & Basketball director’s knack for creating characters audiences identify with is put to good use in the show’s pilot.
“I pride myself on performance because at the end of the day that is what is most important when you’re making art is that you’re making people care. I only do things I’m passionate about. I love my relationship with the actors I work with,” she explains. “It’s about creating a trust in a safe environment where they can give me everything because that’s what I’m going to ask of them. I love rehearsals and improv and it’s really about making actors feel safe enough to let me push them past what they thought they were capable of. That’s what makes it exciting and that’s why I love directing so much.”
Cloak & Dagger is a dark departure from what we have come to expect from Marvel and from teen dramas and the show tackled tough issues we deal with every day, including police brutality against black boys.
“It’s imperative for the show that it felt really grounded and real and authentic despite the fantastical universe. This is the reality for a young black man. I have two black teens and when I look at them they are little boys. I see the way society looks at them and it’s not the same and it’s scary as hell,” she says.
“I feel like when we can shed light on what is really happening through film and television and you put it on characters that you hope the audience feels for and empathized with and roots for, its a way in for people to empathize and once they do that they can be inspired to change things. As an artist, I’m never gonna let go of that. I believe, I have to, that art can change the world. It’s about putting truth out there but also putting representations of us out in the world in film and television for people to see us and for us to see ourselves as well. These are characters we want to aspire to or be inspired by.”
Bythewood is confident about the black community’s desire to see themselves represented in superhero films and she’s glad she’s a part of the growing movement.
“Obviously Black Panther has changed the game so seismically that it is incredibly exciting. Shows like Black Lightning and Cloak & Dagger were in development before that came out. I think there have been so many Marvel shows and films that haven’t focused on us, I have to believe at a certain point we need something different,” she says.
“The Marvel Universe put them out slowly through Don Cheadle’s character and Anthony Mackie’s character and having Chadwick Boseman initially in Civil War so I think the acceptance and the excitement the audience has shown for those characters proved there’s an absolute appetite for more. As fans, we have been around forever and we’re thirsty and starving and we show love so I think they were right to recognize that and to start realizing that their universe should reflect our world here.”
Last year, Sony announced a new Marvel movie called Silver & Black, based on the Spiderman characters Silver Sable and Black Cat and announced that Gina Prince-Bythewood would direct the flick, making her the first Black woman to direct a superhero movie.
“Once you’re in the sandbox you want to stay in there and play in it and I’m excited about the future things I’m working in this world and getting to do it on a larger scale,” she says. “I love badass women and I love heroes and villains and I love putting folks that look like us on the big screen.”
Cloak & Dagger premieres tonight at 8/7c on Freeform.