Stella Meghie’s new filmThe Photograph captures love in all its varied forms spanning time and distance. The romantic drama stars Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield as two young professionals whose paths cross when a newspaper article on fishermen in New Orleans re-connects their severed bonds. As Stanfield, who plays ournalist Michael Block researches his way into the life of museum curator Mae Morton (Rae), pheremones begin to fly.
Shot on location in New York and Louisiana, The Photograph, captures our complicated relationship with the still image. The right photo can help us to transcend time, immortalizing our best selves, while simultaneously reminding us of our own mortality.
Mae and Michael’s budding romance is anchored by the story of Mae’s late mother, Christina Eames, played by Chante Adams ("Roxanne, Roxanne"), and her love affair with a young New Orleans fisherman named Issac, played by Y’Lan Noel ("Insecure"). The two stories are braided together seamlessly in Mehgie’s script and given a touching and amorous gloss by cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard. Everything from the angles to the ethereal music (scored by Grammy Award winning pianist Robert Glasper) allows the film to feel like a visual love letter to Black love — one that is new, yet familiar, in all the best ways.
For many, the last time a Black romance has felt this pure on the big screen was in 1997’s Love Jones, a cinematic inspiration for Meghie. In fact, she told TIFF in 2019 that Theodore Witcher’s classic is “canon” for her as a Black romance and some elements from that film may have subconsciously made their way into The Photograph.
“Some of it is coincidental and some of it is intrinsic because I’ve seen that movie so many times,” she says with a laugh when certain similarities between the films are pointed out, (like the respective male leads—both writers--attempting to seduce their women with some old school Al Green.)
“That stuff is kind of in you and in the fabric or what you love about film. And it shows itself in things you make.”
In one flashback scene Christina is on a job interview and it harkens back to Nia Long’s character Nina Mosely having a very intense exchange with an editor critiquing her photography. Adams, however, didn’t see the connection—at first.
“I wasn’t aware…I also hadn’t seen it before,” she revealed with a laugh. “But I watched [Love Jones] afterward. After watching it I was like ‘Oh my God, the similarities are really beautiful.’”
Chicago native Lil Rel gives all props to the film set in his home town, but insists that The Photograph is still very much its own thing. For one, he and Teyonah Parris are an extremely functional married couple in the film as Michael’s brother and sister-in-law, Kyle and Asia.
“There’s so many layers to this,” says Rel. “We have different love stories happening along with different versions of what love is. I thought Stella did a good job of combining all of that in one movie.”
Regardless of the inspirations (intentioned or no) Stanfield is confident that this story holds up on its own.
“I think it just substantiates the idea that love is timeless and ageless and faceless…environment less. It’s all that and nothing,” he says. “It’s all encompassing. Love is gonna be age old no matter what you package it in. We just have this pretty package called The Photograph.”
The Photograph is in theaters February 14.
Photo Credit: Nia Long Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images 'The Photograph' images courtesy of Universal Studios