Film & Television

‘The Photograph,’ An Intelligent Love Story, Then and Now

Both stories, Mae’s and Christina’s, move slowly and comfortably, and both are a pleasure to watch. Neither is uprooted by fate, a crisis, or a natural disaster (although a New York hurricane does give Mae and Michael an excuse to spend their first night together). Romances fall apart — or threaten to — for all too common and completely human reasons. People do have different goals, despite real love for each other. Long distance relationships don’t often succeed, no matter how much we want them to. 

The Photograph is beautiful to watch (and not just because of its unusually handsome stars). Meghie and her cinematographer, Mark Schwartzbard capture a friendly, cosmopolitan New York, the lazy heat of the Louisiana bayou, and the earthy sensuousness of New Orleans. Interiors (production design is by Loren Weeks and set decoration by Jennifer Greenberg and RosaMaria Sasso) bring the characters to life, whether we’re invited into Isaac’s humble home, Christina’s chilly loft, Mae’s art-filled apartment, or the slightly chaotic brownstone of Michael’s brother Kyle (the very funny Lil Rel Howery). Throughout, there’s a moodiness that is deliberate, as the director recently told Variety.

“I feel like when you think of studio romance, you think of something very bright and I wanted the opposite. I wanted this film to feel sexy and warm and dark, saturated. So, it was a pretty tight color palette of these rich, earthy, you know, colors, jewel tones — there’s a lot of burgundy in the film, a lot of dark green, a lot of like chocolate brown. I wanted Issa to feel like she was almost glowing. And I wanted Lakeith to feel a little more mysterious, in a way, so we found the perfect balance of kind of shadow on his face.”

As Mae and Michael get to know each other, they compare musical tastes. Mae explains that she has trouble with rapper Kendrick Lamar because he makes her feel guilty. “Everybody can’t be a change in the world. It’s too ambitious.” Meghie may have seen some of herself in that particular line of dialogue. As she explained to O, she wanted to make a love story; although nearly the entire cast is African-American, she didn’t set out to make a movie about black issues.

“I wanted to focus more on growth. It really was more about Issa and Lakeith’s characters figuring themselves out so that they could be together and find space for each other. Everybody focusing on who they are, as opposed to just sitting in the trauma of it. Because there’s tragedy, but I always try to do that with a little bit of a light touch in a way so you understand where your characters are coming from, and what they’re trying to grow from. But I’m focused more on the positive parts of the story.”

The growth that Meghie alludes to is more of Mae’s (and Christina’s) story than Michael’s, although we do get a sense that he was a bit of a womanizer and commitment-phobe in the past. Mae wishes desperately that her mother had revealed more of herself prior to her death. But she comes to better understand her — and, in doing so, herself.

An intelligent and mainstream love story starring two black actors shouldn’t be as unusual a phenomenon as it is. But Meghie, with just a few features under her belt, is getting used to pushing boundaries. In 2017, Everything Everything, only her second full-length film, was the only movie helmed by a black female director to be backed by a major studio. (In 2018, there was again only one: A Wrinkle in Time by Ava DuVernay.) Her other feature projects include The Weekend (2018) and the upcoming American Princess, also starring Rae.

A year ago, Meghie told IndieWire, “I don’t think anybody knows who I am, but I like to stay under the radar, so that’s kind of OK with me.”

If The Photograph is any indication, that’s going to change very soon.


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