What does it look like to have a badass summer action flick brought to the screen through the eyes of an equally badass black woman? Well, it looks like The Old Guard.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is based on the acclaimed graphic Greg Rucka novel of the same name. The synopsis for the film provided by Netflix is as follows:
Led by a warrior named Andy (Charlize Theron), a covert group of tight-knit mercenaries with a mysterious inability to die have fought to protect the mortal world for centuries. But when the team is recruited to take on an emergency mission and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed, it’s up to Andy and Nile (KiKi Layne), the newest soldier to join their ranks, to help the group eliminate the threat of those who seek to replicate and monetize their power by any means necessary.
Along with Theron and Layne, The Old Guard stars Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the latter of which recently made The Root’s cut in the “Morris Chestnut Fine” category.
The Root sat down for a virtual interview with Prince-Bythewood and Layne to discuss the importance of Black women leading an action-thriller film with a sizable budget in all aspects—both behind and in front of the camera.
The budget for The Old Guard was 10 times more than Prince-Bythewood’s last film. That gap is nothing to scoff at, especially considering these types of opportunities are few and far between for Black female directors.
“The most obvious roadblock is that those in power do not look like us and so when they read a script and don’t see themselves reflected, they are not connected and have no desire to make it,” Prince-Bythewood mused. “As opposed to us—the way I can go and see The Notebook and fall in love with those characters, it doesn’t matter if they’re white, I’m just falling in love with them. That [concept] needs to be flipped. People need to see our stories in the same way.”
“The beauty of me being in this director’s chair—and hopefully, more following—is with the story. Greg Rucker wrote an incredible graphic novel and adapted the script. But in reading it, I noticed early on that Nile needs more character. I wanted to expand her character, give her a full arc, more backstory and make sure she’s integral to the climax, the plot and the story. Would someone else had recognized that? Probably not. Because they’re so used to seeing the Black characters as the sidekick or comic relief. So, we need our Black female gaze on these films.”
That very Black female gaze is readily apparent and confirmed throughout the film. A recent report on The Daily Bulletin confirmed that Terilyn A. Shropshire—who had worked with Prince-Bythewood for a long time—is “the first Black woman to edit a superhero film, and the rare editor to cut one by herself, without a co-editor or two to handle the voluminous frames of footage these movies produce.”
At first glance, it may look like a typical situation where the white-leading actress carries the film to attract “mainstream” audiences at the expense of the Black “sidekick”—but once you watch, you quickly realize Layne’s Nile is no sidekick, honey. She’s the core. Obviously, that is especially important since Layne is a dark-skinned actress.
“Honestly, the biggest thing that I’m going after with my career is to break through those barriers, those boundaries and the assumption of where the actress that looks like me belongs,” Layne said. “Hollywood has definitely made it clear where it thinks I belong! You get to play these 3 types of roles and tell 3 types of stories and that’s it, which is silly, because in day to day life, we live all of these different stories, circumstances, situations and playing all of these different roles.”
I highly recommend streaming this film this weekend as it’s an effectively thrilling action film. In fact, there’s one particular sequence that is so terrifying, it left my throat in knots—and it was all told in flashback. We may not get the traditional version of a blockbuster summer movie schedule due to the lockdown, but I think this film will satisfy a streamer fan’s appetite.
The Old Guard is now streaming on Netflix.