‘The Photograph’ Captures Generations of Love Blossoming and Spreading Free

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chanté Adams, Y’lan Noel, Rob Morgan, Lil Rel Howery, Teyonah Parris, Courtney B. Vance, Chelsea Peretti, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Director: Stella Meghie

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Sizzling Moments

Release Date: February 14, 2020

The ads for The Photograph have been giving off strong “Nicholas Sparks, but with black people” vibes. However, I had a hankering suspicion that it wouldn’t actually be as saccharine as that glossy presentation suggested. First and foremost, the two leads, Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, are not exactly for taking on such gloopy material. Surely their presence would ensure that things would end up a little more left-field than this genre typically goes. Indeed that has turned out to be the case, but to be fair to the marketing team, this is not an easy movie to advertise. It has a slow-burn meditative spirit (driven along by Robert Glasper’s jazzy piano score) that does not immediately grab you in the way that trailers are meant to in a couple of minutes. But if you simmer in it for a couple hours, your heart might just grow a few sizes.

Michael (Stanfield) is a reporter working on a story that happens to involve recently deceased photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams). He then finds himself smitten by Christina’s daughter Mae (Rae), who is working her way through the truth bombs that her mom has left her in a pair of letters, one addressed to Mae and one to Mae’s father. Meanwhile, writer-director Stella Meghie frequently takes us back to Christina’s young adulthood in small-town Louisiana where she is unable to reconcile a possible future with the man that she loves (Y’lan Noel) and her dreams of making it big in New York City. She tends to always choose her professional goals over her loved ones, and in a case of family history rhyming, Mae and Michael find themselves worried that they are going to do the same. That struggle to find the nerve to say what you know is in your heart is deeply felt in The Photograph.

I have noticed a lot of excitement around this movie about the potential to see black love that is not also about trauma on the big screen. And if that is what you are looking for, I suspect that you will be satisfied. The blackness in The Photograph is not meant to represent all blackness, as Michael and Mae’s story is by no means a microcosm of all people of color. They are two people who happen to be black and happen to be falling in love. The details are their own, while also being part of a continuum of their lineage. It is an openhearted, generous story that I think a lot of people are going to be happy to witness.

The Photograph is Recommended If You Like: Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball, A bottle of wine and a record player on a rainy night

Grade: 4 out of 5 Darkrooms

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Blindspotting’ is a Little Messy, But It Has Plenty to Say About Violence and Gentrification

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CREDIT: Ariel Nava/Lionsgate

This review was originally published on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry

Director: Carlos López Estrada

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Confrontational Profanity and Intense Physical Violence

Release Date: July 20, 2018 (Limited)

Are we defined by the most extreme moments in our lives? Please, somebody, tell Blindspotting, because it would like to know!

Longtime friends and Oakland, California natives Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal star as longtime friends and Oakland, California natives Collin and Miles, respectively. They work together at a moving company, managed by Collin’s ex Val (Janina Gavankar). Collin is approaching the end of his probation, his jail stint the result of a violent incident that has forever seared itself on Val’s memory. A central question in Blindspotting is whether or not Val can ever look past Collin at his worst, and looming even wider is the question of whether or not Collin and Miles can look past the version of their hometown that they grew up in.

Gentrification has arrived for every urban area in this country with any hint of trendiness, and Miles could not be more opposed. Collin is more serene about the matter, perhaps because he has more intimate experience with the consequences of myopia. Development efforts may take away local color, but they also can make cities safer. Alas, they often just tuck the danger away into hidden corners, which Blindspotting does not turn its eyes away from. If only gentrification could clean up a population’s morality and make it more compassionate. It is a phenomenon that has its failings, but those failings do not call for as violent a reaction as Miles is predisposed towards. There is a lot of confrontation from all directions in this movie – the challenge is to cut through your blind spots and find the most useful message.

Blindspotting is Recommended If You Like: Daveed Diggs breaking big, Socially conscious sitcoms, Wayne Knight cameos

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Kwik Ways