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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Photograph is a romantic drama about two middle-class Black millennial professionals (Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield) living in New York City. The characters' on-screen relationships are free of trauma, abuse, or any other negative stereotypes -- overall, the film is full of positive depictions of Black life. Adults drink socially and kiss. There's a tasteful sex scene that doesn't include nudity, some innuendo, and brief swearing ("f--k"). The film is free of violence, and it offers themes of communication, compassion, courage, and curiosity, plus messages about the importance of love, family, and female friendships. Inspired by favorites like Love & Basketball and Love Jones, this film is age-appropriate for teens and portrays falling in love in a universal way. It's directed and written by Stella Meghie (Insecure, Grown-ish).
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What's the story?
THE PHOTOGRAPH centers on Mae Morton (Issa Rae), a young woman whose estranged, famous mother, Christina, dies suddenly, leaving Mae curious about Christina's life and the choices that she made. When journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) decides to do a story about Christina's photography, he becomes curious about Mae and her own life, too. In flashbacks set in Louisiana, Christina's (Chanté Adams) life is revealed, including the backstory of her relationship with the love of her life. As Mae and Michael look to the past for answers, they just might stumble upon a love of their own that could affect their future forever.
Is it any good?
Stella Meghie's romantic drama offers a perspective that's rarely seen on-screen: that of two beautiful, dark-skinned middle-class Black professionals who love each other in a soft, positive manner. In many films with Black actors, the female lead has a lighter complexion; Meghie's choice to cast many actors of a medium-brown to darker complexion is deliberate, and welcome. And there's no trauma, violence, or abuse complicating the warm affection between Mae and Michael -- just genuine, organic human interaction, and it's beautiful to see. What's more, the Black experience isn't presented monolithically in The Photograph, since it weaves together two stories. Viewers see what life is like for two generations of people who've experienced love, both in present-day New York City and in Louisiana in the past (which also ties into a secondary narrative about Black people who migrated North in pursuit of a better life). The movie clearly conveys the importance of archiving the past. Mae's profession as an art curator, Christina's passion for photography, and Michael's journalistic desire to find the truth of a story all lend themselves to the idea of preserving a moment in time.
That said, there are some moments in the film that feel predictable and/or too long and drawn out, and the pacing can be quite slow (though the slower pace also offers viewers space to fully absorb the beauty of two people falling in love). And some of the flashback scenes seem a bit too modern, especially with the styling of Christina's hair. But thanks to Meghie's storytelling skills, the beautiful art showcased within the characters' homes, the serene shots of Southern coastal life, and the interior design of Mae's upscale apartment, the movie is certainly aesthetically pleasing. The chemistry between Rae and Stanfield is natural, and in the form of Michael's brother (Lil Rel Howery) and his wife (Teyonah Parris), we get a lovely depiction of married family life -- and another positive counterstereotype: a wealthy Black family living in Harlem coexisting in harmony with their sweet, precocious kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about stereotypes. Did you notice any stereotypes about Black family life being debunked in The Photograph? Which characters/situations do you think stand as counterstereotypes? Why is representation important in media (and life)?
The movie has a strong theme of archiving history. How is Mae's mother Christina's history preserved in the movie? Christina is a photographer. How does photography archive history? How do both museum curation and journalism preserve history?
In flashback scenes, we see that Christina makes bold decisions about her life. How do her choices defy the traditional norms associated with her gender during that time period?
- In theaters: February 14, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: April 28, 2020
- Cast: Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chanté Adams
- Director: Stella Meghie
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Courage, Curiosity
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexuality and brief strong language
- Last updated: May 7, 2020
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