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Writer/Director Gina Prince-Blythewood loves a good love story.  The aptly titled Love and Basketball, her 2000 directorial debut hit starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, won her an Independent Spirit Award. The Secret Life of Bees is a tale of love and friendship that featured a star studded cast that most directors can only dream of.  And now with “Beyond the Lights”, her take on love in the high powered, often raunchy and self-serving music industry, Prince-Blythewood lets us know that this too is a fertile arena for finding true love.

Prince-Blythewood was in her native Chicago along with budding mega star Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) for the 18th Annual Black Perspectives Tribute and Gala, as part of the 50th Annual Chicago International Film Festival. Prince-Blythewood was the recipient of the group’s Artistic Achievement Award and Mbatha-Raw received this year’s Emerging Talent Award.

The Red Carpet appearance was followed by a screening of “Beyond the Lights” starring Mbatha-Raw. The film charts the rise of Mbatha-Raw’s character Noni, a talented biracial Brit, who finds her talent and life usurped by an ambitious mother, played by Minnie Driver.  Noni morphs from a curly haired youngster, with an amazingly soulful voice, to a ‘video vixen’ version of herself even she cannot recognize.  Just as Noni is achieving worldwide success and about to embark on a solo career she finds herself on the brink of a devastating life choice that could be devastating when an LA police officer, Kaz Nicole, played by Nate Parker, steps into her life just in the nick of time, intervenes and life begins anew.  The two, find themselves immediately drawn to each other.

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This was Mbatha-Raw’s first visit to Chicago and a return to home for Prince-Blythewood who was born here but raised in California where she attended UCLA’s film school.  Upon being asked about the longevity of Love and Basketball she said, “As a director you only dream of your movie being so well received.  It was a movie I was passionate about and a lot of it was autobiographical since I played basketball and ran track at UCLA.”

Prince-Blythewood goes on to say, “there are not enough love stories in the world. ” “I was pleased to mesh two of my interests, music and love, into one film.”

Chicago was the third screening of the film that hits theaters on November 14.

Photos by Timothy M. Schmidt

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