With 'The Photograph,' Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield revive the black romantic drama

Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The '90s and early aughts were a golden era for black cinema, in particular the black romantic drama.

With the release of films like "Brown Sugar" (2002), "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (1998), "Deliver Us From Eva" (2003), "Two Can Play That Game" (2001) and "The Best Man" (1999), representation for varying shades of black love was at an all-time high.

Genre classics like "Love Jones" (1997) and "Love & Basketball" (2000) left an indelible mark on black filmmakers, the echoes of which can be seen onscreen today.

For writer-director Stella Meghie, who offers her own entry into the genre this weekend with Universal's "The Photograph," starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, the latter film -- a Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps sports romance -- presented a rare opportunity for her to see her own experience reflected in a major studio release.

"Before I knew I wanted to direct, I was just so connected to that film," said Meghie. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood "saw me: 'Ball' was life for me growing up and I was fighting that feeling of being a tomboy. I remember the year in high school when I decided to wear a skirt, so I just related to Sanaa's character so much."

"I've always said 'Love & Basketball' influenced me wanting to be a writer and a filmmaker," said Rae. "There's something about watching people fall in love that feels magical, maybe because I think I've been more cynical in real life. To learn love from movies is problematic, but also wistful. It's wish fulfillment."


In "The Photograph," Rae plays a museum curator named Mae who finds herself grappling with the recent loss of her elusive and estranged mother. Stanfield costars as Michael, a journalist who inadvertently helps Mae connect the dots of her past, falling in love with her in the process.

The multigenerational story (Chante Adams plays Mae's young mother alongside Y'lan Noel as her first love) was intended to be a meditation on black love and the barriers to it that we both inherit and create ourselves.

"For me, the message about love in this film is that there's a history to it," said Meghie. "That your ability to love comes from what you've learned about love, how your parents loved and how those relationships between mothers and daughters affect your emotional intelligence."

"I always thought about it in terms of DNA," said Stanfield. "And how generations pass on information unwillingly to their offspring, and the trauma lives in the blood and the experience."


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