Stella Meghie isn’t interested in extraordinary tales. For the Jamaican–Canadian filmmaker, everyday stories are the most remarkable. That’s what her films are all about, like her debut Jean of the Joneses, a romcom featuring a Jamaican–American family, and The Weekend, which follows a comedian’s B&B getaway with her ex, his new flame and a handsome fellow guest. Her projects have turned the former fashion publicist into a Hollywood mainstay – Meghie is one of the few Black women directors making major studio film waves. Now her romantic drama The Photograph, starring Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield, hits theatres on Valentine’s Day. We caught up with Meghie to discuss her whirlwind rise and the new roles she’s creating for Black women.
And what she misses the most about living in Toronto.
enRoute You wrote, directed and produced The Photograph. How did it come to be?
Stella Meghie I had a meeting at Will Packer Productions before I had even sold a show or shot Jean of the Joneses, and they wanted to do a romantic drama, but didn’t have an idea beyond a drama set in a storm. I started thinking about things that mean something to me. My grandmother had a daughter very young who she had been separated from and, after 40 years, they were going to meet. I took that idea and made it a more romantic storyline between Issa Rae’s character’s mother, Christina, and Isaac, and the idea that he had loved Christina for the past 30 years, but hadn’t seen her. A lot of the feeling that went into it came from me watching my grandmother reunite with her daughter – it’s definitely from my heart.
ER Were Issa and LaKeith instant picks for the leading roles of Mae and Michael?
SM I wrote the script without anyone in mind. But as it was picking up speed, I directed an episode of Insecure with Issa. I loved working with her, so I started considering her for Mae. You think of her as a comedic actress, but her well runs deep. And she signed on within a week of me sending her the script. From there, we moved to Michael. LaKeith flew to New Orleans to meet us and we all read the script together. The moment he sat next to Issa and started speaking, there was nobody else for the role; their chemistry is so good.
ER This is your fourth film since Jean of the Joneses in 2016, and you have another Issa Rae–fronted project, American Princess, in the works. How did you get here from your first career in public relations?
SM I have always written and I wasn’t that good at PR, so I needed to move on and find what I was good at. I went back to school for screenwriting and got my master’s. Then I just wrote and wrote and started breaking through a bit. I hadn’t directed anything before, but I wrote Jean of the Joneses and it was almost semi–autobiographical. I couldn’t picture anyone else directing it, so I got everyone to agree to let me do it. It played at SXSW and TIFF and that’s where it all started.
ER Representation in TV and film is on the rise. What fresh perspectives do you bring with your work?
SM I try to write Black women who are a reflection of me and the women I know. It comes from a personal place of wanting to write myself, my best friend, my mother or my auntie or my cousin. These people end up being the unseen Black women, who aren’t considered important enough to have screen time. Perhaps they are too simple, or their stories are too everyday. But I love everyday stories. I love relationship dynamics between mothers and daughters – that’s in every film I’ve ever done. I have a running theme: young Black women trying to figure out who they are in Black spaces, in educational systems, in white spaces. It’s the simple, familial stories that I’m obsessed with.
ER You’ve lived in New York, London and, now, L.A. since leaving Toronto in 2003. What do you miss about home?
SM I miss the Toronto DJs; the way they spin and the different music. It’s much more of a sound–system vibe and there are different generations of hip hop and reggae. It’s closer to the culture I grew up with. I miss that culture and being around so many West Indian people. Being Jamaican–Canadian is so different than being African–American; I have a different history, a different point of view.
“I try to write Black women who are a reflection of me and the women I know. These people end up being the unseen Black women, who aren’t considered important enough to have screen time.”
ER Have you shot anywhere that’s left a lasting impression?
SM Louisiana, for The Photograph. We were in Delacroix and went out on a fishing boat – Y’lan Noel plays an oyster fisherman in the film. I loved talking to the fishermen and hearing about how Katrina has affected them; the BP oil spill; how things have changed over the years; how many fewer oysters there are now, and then seeing the physical act of how they fish for oysters. It’s amazing when you can learn a whole new way of life and get to know something that is so far outside of your scope.
Carry–on essential Earbuds. I’m always listening to music, and when I fly, I get to watch every movie I haven’t seen yet.
Last getaway GoldenEye, in Jamaica. It’s always nice to go back to Jamaica – I love being in the sea.
Dream seatmate Ooh, an actor I’m not going to mention in print.
First travel memory Going to Kingston, Jamaica, with my Aunt Jan in grade two. We went to see one of her best friends and I remember being in the Beverly Hills neighbourhood.
Travel has the power to… Change your perspective. No matter where you go, be there with all your heart until the next stop.