If it’s one thing the cast of The Photograph wants us to take away after seeing the film, it’s that black love is beautiful.
The film, which opens on Valentine’s Day, is split between two timelines. In the present, Mae (Issa Rae), is a New York-based museum curator who is mourning the sudden death of her photographer mother, Christina. Christina leaves Mae a letter, where she chronicles her youth in Louisiana and her romance with a man named Isaac, someone Mae never knew existed. Michael (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a sudden interest in Christina’s work and life, and his latest piece on the photographer leads him to New York, where he meets Mae. The attraction between the two is immediate and Michael helps Mae discover a part of her mother that she never knew existed.
While sitting down with the ladies of The View, both Lakeith and Issa discussed how important it was that The Photograph shone a light on black love and, more importantly, how the film showcased love between two dark-skinned characters. Lakeith said,
“We’re just happy again to be able to showcase love between two dark-skinned people on screen. By virtue of having that, show that all love is multidimensional and multifaceted, and hopefully, everybody can enjoy their love stories.”
But it wasn’t just black love that Lakeith wanted to focus on.
During an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Lakeith wanted to make sure that he made Michael as multidimensional and vulnerable as possible, something we rarely get to see of black men in romance films.
“I wanted him to be the kind of guy who was able to make a decision but still show some emotional aspects or some vulnerability. Oftentimes the black guy in these kinds of movies is too ‘something.’ He’s too this. He’s too that. So I wanted to create a balance in the romance and show that black men can be multifaceted.”
Yes, we have films like Love Jones, Love & Basketball, Poetic Justice, and Beyond the Lights. But romance films that focus on black love interests are still few and far between.
And on the rare occasion where we do get one, the characters usually have to go through some sort of terrible trauma for them to finally realize they deserve love (ahem, Tyler Perry).
If the characters are lucky enough to have not gone through a trauma, usually only one of the characters is dark-skinned (typically the male character), while the female lead is either light-skinned or racially ambiguous. This was something that the film’s writer and director, Stella Meghie, specifically wanted to stay away from. Meghie told Shadow and Act,
“It was important for me to have a brown skin girl play Mae and have the same for Michael. Unfortunately, it’s not seen a lot. As a black woman, I felt like the onus is on me to do it.”
Meghie affords her characters the same respect that characters in predominately white romance films constantly receive. What makes The Photograph so special is that it allows black people to just be in love. No trauma, no abuse. Just unconditional love.