The Treat: Filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood on Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’

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“I remember the first time I heard [‘Ex-Factor’]. It's a song that literally goes into your soul, and just fills you with this guttural pain,” says filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood. Photo courtesy of MRC.

When Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of the new action-drama “The Woman King,” needs to stoke her creative process, she turns to “Ex-Factor,” a tune from Grammy-winning singer and rapper Lauryn Hill. The song is one of the highlights of Hill’s landmark 1998 album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which touches upon topics of motherhood, the turmoil within her former hip-hop group the Fugees, reminiscence, love, heartbreak, and God. 

Prince-Bythewood says she uses the song as inspiration whenever she needs to connect deeply with her writing. 

I remember the first time I heard [Ex-Factor]. It's a song that literally goes into your soul, and just fills you with this guttural pain. You feel everything. And the fact that a song has that type of power is a fascinating thing. You know it comes from truth. They talked about where that song came from, and that probably adds to the intensity of it. 

It's a song I've literally heard over thousands of times, and I feel the same exact way every time I hear it. I use it for writing. I used it for “Love & Basketball.” It's weird that I can write when there's lyrics going, because oftentimes that could distract me, but for this song, I wanted to evoke that level of emotion inside of me to write the fourth quarter of “Love & Basketball.” So I literally put it on repeat, put that song on so loud that I could not hear anything else, but be enveloped by that feeling and wrote and wrote and wrote. 

For me as an artist, and my work, I want to be able to create content, ultimately a film that can make an audience feel as deeply as that song makes me feel, and especially a love story. I love to create a love story that makes you feel as deeply as that song makes me feel. 

There's so much in that title. There's so much in the lyrics. But it's her voice and the feeling, and you feel as she's singing, she is feeling every single inch of what she went through. Then to share that depth of pain with an audience, to let us into that aspect of her life, takes incredible courage. 

As an artist, I certainly put myself in every film I do in my lead characters. It's what I love about what I do. Using writing and directing is therapy to get through things. But to be as open and honest as a singer, there's no character to hide behind. I can hide behind my characters. You can't as a singer — it is just you and a mic.

I have so much respect for [Lauryn Hill] for doing that, and for giving us that. I'm sure that that song has been played on repeat for a thousand different reasons for a thousand different people. For me, when I need to feel that deeply when I'm writing, that song is always a part of my writing playlist.



Rebecca Mooney