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'The Photograph' Writer Reveals Film Is Based On Her Grandmother Who Had A Daughter She Hadn't Seen In 30 Years

Stella Meghie and Issa Rae sat down with journalist Tre'vell Anderson at the MACRO Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival to dish about the poignant story that inspired the film.
‘The Photograph’ Writer Reveals Film Is Based On Her Grandmother
Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MACRO Lodge

Director Stella Meghie‘s latest film, The Photograph, introduces romcom lovers to the daughter of a famous photographer, who falls in love with a journalist and learns the untold story about her late mother along the way.

During a panel with journalist Tre’vell Anderson at the MACRO Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival, Meghie revealed that the inspiration for the story came from her own grandmother.

“[The Photograph] is mostly fictional, but the core idea of it came from something completely different,” Meghie said while sitting next to star Issa Rae, who plays the daughter Mae. “My grandmother was about to meet a daughter that she had when she was very young that went to live with her father that she hadn’t seen in almost 30 years.”

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“They were meeting for the first time and she was flying from London. I just started thinking, ‘What would it be like if you thought about someone every single day for 30 years, but didn’t see them and love them? Then I kind of flipped it from a familial thing to a romantic thing,” Meghie added.

After reading the script, Rae jumped at the chance to work with Meghie, who had previously directed an episode of Insecure. Still, casting her onscreen love interest, Michael, proved a little difficult until Lakeith Stanfield auditioned.

“We cast Lakeith last. It was like a long process to figure out who Michael was going to be,” Meghie said. “He was the last piece and I remember being like, you haven’t seen him like this. I remember the casting director setting up a Skype [call] and I just remember as soon as he came on, he started talking and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Michael.'”

‘The Photograph’ Writer Reveals Film Is Based On Her Grandmother
PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 25: (L-R) Journalist Tre‚Äôvell Anderson, writer/director Stella Meghie and actor Issa Rae speak at The MACRO Lodge and Universal Films Pictures ‚ÄúThe Photograph” with Issa Rae and Stella Meghie panel on January 25, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MACRO Lodge)

“He’s an easy person to fall in love with,” Rae added when discussing working and bonding with Stanfield. “We’d met in passing a couple of times and then we worked on a JAY-Z video [“Moonlight”] together where we had to recreate Friends.”

“The first thing that we shot was the first time [Mae and Michael] meet and we both were just like, ‘Oh, this is such a good opportunity to kind of get to know each other as the movie progresses.’ We did the typical things of just [grabbing] dinner and talking a little bit and he’s just so sweet,” Rae, who’s also an executive producer, said.

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For both Rae and Meghie, The Photograph is a celebration of Black love, whether romantic or familial. It’s also an opportunity to bring that experience to the big screen.

“I’m someone who grew up just loving romance and loving my people,” Meghie said. “To me, that’s what I want to see on the screen. Whether it’s romantic love, romantic Black love, or familial Black love. It’s just what calls to me. It’s what I like to write about and it’ll continue to be a thread.”

The Photograph, also starring Courtney B. Vance, Lil Rel Howery and Teyonah Parris, hits theaters on Valentine’s Day.