'The Photograph' and 'triumph' of black love

“The story’s about expanding our notion of love, and showing that love between two dark-skinned black people, which we so rarely see,” Stanfield said. “It’s the triumph of that love.”
Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in love in "The Photograph."
Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in love in "The Photograph."Emily Aragones

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By Gwen Aviles

Can love emerge from loss?

This is the question at the heart of Stella Meghie’s latest film “The Photograph.”

Released on Valentine’s Day, “The Photograph” is an intergenerational tale about Mae (Issa Rae), a young woman in search of answers after her mother dies without disclosing her illness. During her quest, she connects with a journalist (LaKeith Stanfield) who incidentally is tasked with writing a story about her mother, who was a famous photographer, but an overwhelming fear of intimacy threatens their budding relationship.

“I had this idea of a couple kind of getting to know each other in the middle of a Hurricane Sandy-kind of night in New York and how that could bring them together or pull them apart,” Meghie, who began writing the screenplay five years ago, told NBC News,

Yet, not all the story arcs of the movie are fictional. The film, which partly unfolds as a flashback, includes a character based on a real-life Louisiana oyster fisherman who lost his fortune in BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Meghie had been watching a documentary about the incident that left 11 dead and had long-term environmental effects and was inspired by the “integrity” of one of the subjects.

“Issac is based off a man who lost everything in the spill, yet he kept fighting for compensation for his family,” Y’lan Noel said of his character.

With these thoughts in mind, Meghie began writing but as she wrote, her grandmother reunited with the daughter she had given up decades before — a development that supplanted any ideas she’d had about the film’s structure.

“It just kind of struck me … what it'd be like if you were separated from someone for so long, but had thought about them a lot,” Meghie said. “And so those are two of the ideas that formed the backstory of the film.”

Ultimately, the director and cast members say the film is one about having the courage to take risks for the people you love.

“Fortune favors the brave,” Noel said. “If you really want something, I think you owe it to yourself to go after it.”

Meghie, Rae and Noel have all worked together before on the HBO show “Insecure,” yet “The Photograph” renders viewers with the opportunity to see their collaboration on a more dramatic, romantic project.

“The story’s about expanding our notion of love, and showing that love between two dark-skinned black people, which we so rarely see,” Stanfield said. “It’s the triumph of that love.”