Hollywood loves a Cinderella story, and Stella Meghie has a real one.
In 2009, Meghie quit her job as a publicist for fashion and beauty brands to go back to school and follow her dreams of being a writer/director. In 2011, she completed her screenwriting degree at London’s University of Westminster; the years that followed have been a film student’s dream.
Shortly after graduating, she sold a number of TV projects. Then she directed and found financing for her first film, “Jean of the Joneses,” which she originally wrote while in school. In 2016, she managed to squeeze it into the South by Southwest Film Festival as a late entry. The film premiered to rave reviews, with The Times calling it “a movie that is both fresh and refreshing, at once familiar and new.”
Then her life changed in what looks like an instant.
A month after “Jean’s” debut, Meghie signed with CAA. The script, inspired by her family of Jamaican women, served as a calling card that led to deals with BET and VH1. In just another month, a script by J. Mills Goodloe was in her mailbox.
A little over a year after Meghie finished her first film, her second, Warner Bros. and MGM’s “Everything, Everything,” premieres in theaters everywhere.
That sort of movie-deal whirlwind doesn’t often happen to women, let alone black women. But as the film industry roils with conversations about representation and diversity in front and behind the camera, Meghie’s long-gestating talent was perfectly positioned to rise.
“There’s a conversation that’s happening right now that is helpful,” said Meghie. “But things are [only] going to change when projects like [‘Everything, Everything’] are made and they hire more women and minorities to direct and write. Otherwise, it’ll be up to us, like I did with ‘Jean,’ to do it for ourselves.”
An adaptation of the bestselling YA novel by Nicola Yoon, “Everything, Everything” stars Amandla Stenberg (Rue of “The Hunger Games”) as a teen with a medical condition that requires her to stay inside her germ-free, super-antibacterial home. But when a cute boy, played by “Jurassic World’s” Nick Robinson, moves in next door, she’s willing to risk her life just to swim in the ocean. Anika Noni Rose and Ana de la Reguera also star.
Initially, Meghie was more interested in making another indie than taking on a studio film, but after some nudging from her manager, she read Goodloe’s script and Yoon’s book.
“I basically did a New York walk-and-talk film with jazz music,” she said. “I didn’t think this would be my next film, but the book had so much humor and quirk to it. Ten pages in I was like, ‘I’m supposed to do this.’”
After meeting with Yoon, the two made a play for Stenberg, who they felt would best capture the essence of the book’s biracial main character. Yoon, who is black and married to a Korean American, wrote a character in which her daughter, who is mixed, could see herself reflected. Featuring, but not about, a biracial couple, and with four black women — Yoon, Meghie, Stenberg and Rose — at its core, “Everything, Everything” is an outlier in more ways than one. Its singularity, however, positions the picture at once as progressive and sobering.
It certainly isn’t the sort of movie Hollywood typically produces.
Perhaps this is why Meghie and Stenberg have made the Internet meme Joanne the Scammer the patron saint of the film, introducing the “the messy [chick] who lives for drama,” as the character played by Branden Miller describes herself on Twitter, to others on set. Joanne achieved cyber fame by chronicling her scams online, like joking about switching the best picture cards at the 2017 Oscars or tweeting out inspirational tidbits such as, “Scam today before today scams you.”
Neither Meghie or Stenberg could believe what was happening. Plainly put, black women, unlike their white male counterparts, don’t get these types of opportunities at this level at such an early juncture in their careers — if ever. A scam must be afoot.
“Stella and I would just look at each other and there was this unspoken thing between us,” said Stenberg with a smile, “where we felt like, ‘We’re out here making this and they have no idea what it is. They don’t know what they have their hands on. They let us make this?’”
Meghie’s unique vantage point, Stenberg said, can be seen in the “black girl hair moments” her character has in the film or the shots of melanin peeking out of an unzipped top or the “sneaky game we’d play in terms of handheld camera shots.”
Robinson added that Meghie was perfectly suited for the film because she “had a really good grasp on her audience and her voice.”
“It was what I was hoping it would be,” he said about the filming process, noting it was Meghie who convinced him to take the role over a lunch.
As for what’s next for Meghie, she wants to continue telling “unique, honest stories.” Whether that’s in the studio system or back on the indie streets, only time will tell.
“Some stories don’t fit in the studio system, and I’m going to want to tell some of those,” she said. “And if there is something right in the studio system that I can bring something to, then that’s where you’ll find me.”
Continuing to scam, in the best, most representative way possible.