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Stella Meghie, Amandla Stenberg, and Anika Noni Rose Talk Everything about 'Everything, Everything'

Stella Meghie, Amandla Stenberg, and Anika Noni Rose Talk Everything about 'Everything, Everything'

Shakefire (SF): Any advice to teenagers making decisions for themselves when their parents are against it?
Amandla Stenberg (AS): I feel like it’s so dependent on circumstance, the decision, the relationship. But I guess in a way that it is appropriate to the movie. I do think that pushing against certain boundaries is just a part of being a teenager. That can create a lot of tension between daughters and mothers especially, which is something that I’ve realized as I’ve grown older.  Even though that tension has existed between me and my mom in the past, it’s a natural part of growing up. And it’s an important part of that relationship. It’s informs and makes stronger the connections that you have as you become older

Anika Noni Rose (ANR): I think that it’s about the teenager and who that person is and who that parent is and how well they know themselves. But I think the most important thing to think about is to always think about what the after is going to be, before the jump happens. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with jumping, but we always need to think about the potential after. Is that after worth the jump? Is this the jump that you want to take? How far will that jump take you? And where could you potentially land? Is that landing going to be a soft enough landing for you to be able to get back up?

SF: Having a film directed by a black woman, based on a book written by a black woman, and starring two black women that isn’t about history is remarkable. Would you say that working on this movie expanded your view of Black Feminism and/or Womanism in the entertainment  industry?
ANR: No, but I think it expanded Black Feminism in the entertainment industry in my view.

AS: I don’t know that it expanded my view, but it did make me feel was that sense of solidarity within a system that is white and corporate. It made me feel strong and powerful, being surrounded by people who I knew we had that unspoken knowledge and that unspoken solidarity within that context.

SF:: I really enjoyed the backdrop and the colors. It was very calming. I loved the wardrobe. Could you please tell me was that intentional?
Stella Meghie (SM): Yes, it was very intentional! We definitely have blue, green, yellow, purple swatches up on every board in every department. Avery Plewes was the costume designer and did a beautiful job. We wanted (Maddie) to feel soft and innocent and push the boundaries of how fashionable a young girl stuck in the house really could look. She made me put back some Valentino shorts, “This girl would not have Valentino shorts!” 

I think it’s important to keep a tight palet. I felt like it keeps people, without knowing it, moving from scene to scene to scene without feeling it. It feels seamless. It was definitely on the production side and the costume side, very thought out. They were funny, they’d be like, “Stella! It’s not pink, it’s lavender!” I think it helps thematically keeps the moving going.

SF: I love the powerful conflict between the mother and the daughter. Where did draw from to be able to connect and perform so well?
ANR: I think it was in the script. I think that Amandla is somebody who is very strong and very young, but very old at the same time. But there’s also something about her that, inspite of knowing that she’s very able to take care of herself, there’s something about her that makes you want to take her in. And having spent time with her, and not a whole lot to be perfectly honest, I grew to love her very easily and very quickly.

I’m a Virgo. I’m pretty maternal anyway, when I care! But when I care, I care deeply and strongly and pretty hard. I think that this woman is someone who loves very hard. I think that to love people and a person so hard and to have them be either taken away or walk away is a devastation. So, I understand internally, what it is to love someone hard. I have a nephew who I brought to a museum when he was two and there was another kid that snatched a drum from him. And I’ve seen parents be really cool about that and I wasn’t cool! It took everything in me to be cool about it! I understand that mother-bear place.  But also, it’s in that script--it’s there. It’s so clear to me and it was so clear to me from the beginning that this is a woman who is functioning brokenly on love; on the intensity of it and the lack of it.

SF: Books and reading feature a lot in the movie. Do you have any books that have special meaning to you?
AS: My favorite book is Beloved by Toni Morrison. That books is so important and magical and deep and dark.

SM: White Teeth by Zadie Smith. It was definitely, when I was 23, reading it, it felt like nothing I’d ever read before. I’d never seen those characters before. It inspired me to write those kind of characters that you have never seen, that are so specific to you. The way it touched so many people when it was such a specific story and the humor, the quirk, the drama, and the tone that shifted so often. I think really inspires me still.

ANR: Jacqueline Woodson has a book called Another Brooklyn which is soul stirring and beautiful. Sort of reminiscent of Sassafrass, Cypress, & Indigo by Ntozake Shange which is really stunningly beautiful. Also, Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward that had me openly sobbing in my house, out loud, alone. There are many more, but I’ll leave it at those few

SF: Speaking of books, earlier at the brunch [Anika Noni Rose] spoke of some books you were looking to get produced. One which, I believe is Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. Can you talk about that?
ANR:: I can’t say where I am with that, but I am actively moving forward and setting up some meetings. I’m wanting to make sure I get people who care about the truth of who these people are that we’re showing. An Afro-Latina girl is not something we see very often. She’s very clear about that and who she is. Her friends are of all different places, but they are black and they are Brooklynites and they are real. They are magical, figuratively and literally. It’s a stunning piece of literature and it thrills me. It thrills me.

SF: There were some many gems in the film. What life lessons, from the book and the film, resonate with you the most?
AS: I think one of the strongest is the relationship between Maddie and her mom. I think there are many things I can relate to with their relationship. Not necessarily all the negativity and the dangerous aspects of it, but the love and the push back, and the pull back and the nuance in it. I think Mother-Daughter relationships are really complicated. I love my mom so dearly, I was also able to understand that feeling of your mom trying to protect you and using all these different measures to protect you and pushing back, even though it’s all through love. There is a certain balance there that you strike as you grow up, as you become an adolescent person and figure out who you are in the world. There isn’t necessarily the constant protection of your mother.

ANR: I think that the thing that sticks with me from my character's point of view, but also as a thought on life, that is hard for other people and even sometimes for me, is that sometimes loving is letting go. Even beyond mommydom, sometimes you have to release things, people, places and that’s the best way that you can love them.

SM: I think something for me is just, not being afraid to love. Not limiting yourself on the amount of love you can receive and give. That’s why I fell in love with this story, because of the love that was shared and developed and we saw to fruition. Stepping out of your comfort zone and opening up to be vulnerable to somebody.  I think is a lesson I wanted to teach. Not that I teach lessons, I tell stories. I write.

SF: What is one thing that challenged you in creating this film and message did you all want to send to the viewers? Do you think you were able to accomplish that?
SM: I mean, you’d have to tell me!

ANR:  It’s sort of a difficult question because it’s so subjective, but I think everyone’s answer is going to be different depending on where they’re at in their lives and what their story was. Really the hope is that you come away with a message that means something strongly to you, rather than putting a message or the message on you.

Everything, Everything opens in theaters on May 19, 2017. You can read Maria's review of the film here

Maria Jackson
Interview by Maria Jackson
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