TORONTO — As she releases her romantic drama “The Photograph” in theatres this Friday, Canadian filmmaker Stella Meghie is hoping it will spur more films like it.
Issa Rae stars as a New York art gallery curator who learns about her father and late mother’s past while also forging a romance with a journalist, played by Lakeith Stanfield.
The two meet in a serendipitous way while Stanfield’s character is on assignment for a story that ends up having ties to her character.
Meghie says there’s a dearth of black love stories like this getting big-screen releases by Hollywood studios, and she feels the magnitude of that as “The Photograph” comes out on Valentine’s Day and during Black History Month.
“I love these movies, I want to see more,” Meghie, who grew up in Oshawa, Ont., said in a recent interview.
“It’s important that it does well, so that it can send a message to the industry that these movies are wanted and will do well and speak for an audience.”
Meghie wrote, directed and co-executive produced “The Photograph.” She previously made a splash with the 2018 comedy “The Weekend,” the 2017 romantic drama “Everything, Everything,” and her 2016 debut indie feature “Jean of the Joneses.”
Chante Adams plays the mother, whom we see in flashbacks raising her daughter on her own after moving from New Orleans to New York to start her photography career.
Meghie said “The Photograph” and “Jean of the Joneses” were partly inspired by a situation involving her own family several years ago.
“I was really contemplating doing a romantic drama and thinking about these kind of characters, Mae and Michael. At the time, my grandmother was being reunited with a daughter she had given up when she was really young.”
Meghie’s family didn’t talk much about the revelation — “We’re Jamaicans, so we don’t talk about a lot of things,” she said with a laugh. But it did get her thinking about the effect of family secrets.
“That’s kind of where ‘Jean of the Joneses,’ my first film, came from — that idea of this daughter that has appeared and everyone dealt with it differently,” she said.
“One of my aunts was really keen to get to know her, and others were like, ‘What’s happening?’ I was more taken by my grandmother’s experience of just the guilt and the emotions that were resurfacing.”
The idea of a single mother raising her daughter on her own by choice was also inspired by Meghie’s own experience.
“My mom raised me, for the most part, as a single mother, and so that’s what I’ve seen and that’s what is my experience, so I tend to write it pretty often,” she said.
Meghie, who now lives in Los Angeles, set the story partly in Louisiana because she wanted to show a character who had to migrate and choose between home and her future.
“My family is from Jamaica and moved here, and so that idea of having to leave where you’re from to accomplish certain goals is part of my experience,” she said during a stop in Toronto, where her mother still lives.
During filming in Louisiana, Meghie hung out with oyster fishermen on boats so she could learn their way of life and write that into the script.
Meghie said Rae’s casting “fell into place really quick,” but it was harder finding her co-star.
Stanfield wasn’t cast until about two weeks before filming started.
“I sat them in a room, we read the date scene and it was like immediate chemistry,” she said, noting Stanfield is “very good at the mysterious kind of gaze.”
Throughout the film, the characters of Rae and Stanfield have a playful debate about which rap artist is better: Kendrick Lamar or Drake.
So, where does Meghie stand in that debate?
“Mae was me, obviously, so I’m Team Drake, Team hometown,” she said.
A former public relations professional, Meghie is gaining huge traction in Hollywood these days.
But given the dearth of stories like “The Photograph” on the big screen, Meghie said she couldn’t believe it was picked up by a major Hollywood studio — in this case, Universal Pictures.
“I think half the time I was just surprised that they were doing it. Like, ‘Did they read the script?'” she said with a laugh.
“They did. It’s an interesting process to have a writer-director project at a studio. It’s such a personal story but they’re trying to bring it to a big audience, and it’s (about) finding the sweet spot and the compromises to get it made at that level.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2020.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press