May '00 : Reggie Rock Bythewood
Being Honest and all about The Art

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by Nasser Metcalfe

What do you do when your commitment to your dreams becomes a direct conflict with your personal integrity? What if this dilemma was complicated even further by love?Dancing in September, the powerful directorial debut of Reggie Rock Bythewood, explores these questions and more. Set in the highly competitive environment of network television, the film stars Nicole Ari Parker as Tommy Crawford, a highly principled sitcom writer and Isaiah Washington as George Washington, an ambitious television executive. We are introduced to these two as children whose separate lives have been impacted greatly by the power of television. Their perceptions of African-American culture have been shaped by such diverse imagery asGood Times and Roots. As adults the two meet when Tommy attempts to get her sitcom picked up for the upcoming season at George’s upstart WPX network. He is immediately drawn to her and believes in her show. He thus pushes for it to “Dance In September,” a popular term among many African-American TV writers used to describe having a show picked for the fall line-up. The show is a success and they fall happily in love. However, seasons do change. While Civil Rights Organizations are taking action against networks whose portrayals of African-Americans are lacking proper integrity, Tommy’s show starts to slip in the ratings. The drama rises when George advises her to make the show “funnier” in order to survive. The result is an increase in negative stereotypical imagery. Can love and ambition survive one’s conscious?

Dancing in September was written, produced, and directed by veteran television writer, Reggie Rock Bythewood. His personal experience provides insight into the politics attached to black sitcoms. “Ultimately the aim is just to be honest and hold a mirror up to nature and say that this is the reality of Black TV.” states Bythewood of his film. “We definitely want to give insight and hopefully spark conversation. On the other side it’s no secret that Hollywood has been a trend setter with everything. My aim is to say to Hollywood ‘Let’s set a trend of not being racists.’ And maybe that will catch on.” There are some interesting parallels between Bythewood’s life and the themes in Dancing in September. After writing and directing his own plays, and completing the prestigious Disney Writers Fellowship, his first job as a television writer was on the highly praised A Different World. This experience was rewarding to him because in addition to esteemed director Debbie Allen, there were numerous women of color who contributed significantly to the show. It was an environment that honored their sensibilities and allowed the show enough depth to properly reflect them. In short, it was work that he could take comfort and pride in. On the flip side, a few years later, after building a solid hit as the head writer on the weekly police drama New York Undercover, he was challenged by the producers who wanted to alter the direction of the show. After prolonged battles, Bythewood and the show parted amicably. His experience with the politics of network television fueled the plot of Dancing in September. His experience with romance amidst TV writers is yet another parallel. He met fellow scribe Gina Prince when they both worked on A Different World. Today she is Mrs. Gina Prince-Bythewood, writer and director of the hit film Love and Basketball. Their personal and professional relationships compliment one another. They offer and seek each others feedback and constructive criticism. The demands of opposing production schedules sometimes makes it challenging to get in that quality time, but after two years of marriage they seem to be finding the right balance. The fact that they have provided two of the most powerful African-American love stories on the big screen this year speaks to their love foundation.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Dancing in September is how it was made. Bythewood insisted on telling the story that he wanted without having to answer to anyone else's interpretations. So instead of soliciting a major studio to finance production, he used his resources. He capitalized on his reputation as a screenwriter and landed a couple of lucrative re-write gigs in order to provide $300,000 in seed money for the film. Afterwards he was able to raise the additional funds needed from others who wanted to see the film made, many of whom are African-American screenwriters. This was not new ground for Bythewood. In 1995, after attending the Million Man March, he was inspired to write Get On The Bus, a film about a bus load of diverse black men who make the trip from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. for the event. After enlisting Spike Lee as director, the project attracted fifteen prominent Black men to invest. The film was completed, distributed, and in theatres in time for the one-year anniversary of the March itself. He seeks to do a similar deal with Dancing in September. As of press time there were talks but no deal with a major studio for distribution. Reggie Rock Bythewood, however, is not discouraged. He is fully prepared to implement self distribution. "The way I look at it is that we're giving the studios a chance." He states flatly. Perhaps his resilience is the result, in part at least, of his fairly recent battle with Hotchkins Disease. A few years ago he had to undergo throat surgery. Often times, conquering potential life threatening situations causes one to put things in proper perspective. "The whole time I was sick I said if I come through this I have to do two things: I have to marry Gina, and I've got to do this artistically the way I really want to do it. Just be an artist and be honest." declares Bythewood. His historical knowledge also seems to help mold his perspective. He adds "Oscar Micheaux didn't have [tons of money] he didn't even have a driver's license. You gotta figure if he did it back then, we don't have much of an excuse."

Dancing in September can be seen at the New York Latino Film Festival this May. For more info call 212 726-2358. Or log on to


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