By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
The film “The Photograph” that is playing in theaters everywhere stars Issa Rae who came on the scene in a big way with her HBO “Insecure” series, and LaKeith Stanfield, who has had many film roles, including the latest that I reviewed, “Uncut Gems.” The pair play Mae and Mike, who meet when Mike, who is a writer for the New Republic begins research for a piece that he is writing about a famous photographer who was born in Louisiana but found her fortune in New York. Mike had interviewed a man who had once dated and fallen in love with Mae’s mother, Christina, and he was now back in New York interviewing Mae, who is accomplished in her own right as an assistant curator at an art museum.
Christina just up and left Louisiana and her boyfriend when she was about 30 years old, and the two of them never reconciled their relationship. She went back to Louisiana when Mae was just about three years old, but she never told Isaac, played by Rob Morgan, that Mae was his daughter. At that time, he had married and had a family of his own. Christina would later write in a letter, which was only read after her death, that she didn’t want to burden Isaac with a baby, and he admitted later that he was too afraid to ask if Mae was, in fact, his daughter.
So, their relationship, which is told through nice flashbacks, ended and he regretted never trying to go to New York to search for her or to find a way that they could have reconnected.
In the present day, Mae and Mike—while Mike is doing his research around Mae’s mother’s striking Black and white photographs—begin a relationship but both are sort of guarded about revealing their true feelings. Mae isn’t too sure that Mike is being honest with her about his past relationships. He admits that he is a worldly man, even sharing that he had an intimate relationship with a woman who was nearly 20 years his senior.
Mae, in classic Issa Rae fashion, always seems to be pensive and waiting for the ball to drop in this film about not one but two Black love stories. It’s a welcome change in a line of films about Black life—in this instance a throwback to the 80s in Louisiana where Isaac makes a living working on the gulf and catching seafood and Christina yearns for more than what her small southern hometown has to offer. (I say in “Rae fashion,” because Issa Rae always seems to have this pensive expression about her, where it seems that she is on guard all the time). Christina and Isaac are shown enjoying life to the fullest, as she struggles to build a loving relationship while living under the constraints of her mother.
The other love story is the budding one between Mae and Mike; it shows them enjoying the good things about New York. Mike’s brother is married with two young girls, and Mike is warned by his brother to take it slow—and not fall in love too quickly.
And just as quickly as Mae and Mike fall in love, he announces that he’s taking a job in London. This news just pushes Mae over; sort of reinforcing her first gut feeling to NOT get too involved. It’s like the story of her mother, who left a long-lost love to move to New York decades before.
It’s now up to the two of them to resolve this issue—will Mike stay in New York or will this modern couple have to figure out a way to endure a long-distance relationship of their own?
“The Photograph” is a good film, with a fantastic cast that includes Lil Rel Howery, who is a native Chicagoan, as Mike’s brother, and Court- ney B. Vance as Mae’s father. The soundtrack from this film is nice, as well. Al Green has a couple of hits that add a bit of spice and fever to the initial social meeting of Mae and Mike. The reference to the rich artistry of James Kerry Marshall is on point, too. Look for “The Photograph” at a local theatre.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, [email protected].