When Everything, Everything was released last month, Stella Meghie became the only black woman to helm a wide-release film in 2017, and one of just 16 women to helm a studio-backed film this year, per IndieWire. Based on the YA novel by Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything is a visually stunning teen romantic drama with a unique take on the genre. Amandla Stenberg stars as Maddy, a girl who cannot leave her house because she has a rare genetic disorder, SCID - but when she falls for her new neighbor, Olly (Nick Robinson), she begins to long for a life outside her four walls.
Everything, Everything is only Meghie’s second film - her first was the independent dramedy Jean of the Joneses, which she independently financed. When it debuted at SXSW, it became a hit, and Meghie started receiving scripts.
I called Meghie to talk about casting Amandla Stenberg (BUST’s current cover star, btw), adapting Yoon’s novel, and the criticisms the film has received for how it portrays disability.
Note: Amandla Stenberg uses both she/her and they/them pronouns.
Could you tell me how you got involved with Everything, Everything after your first film?
I got sent the script and I ended up reading it. And then I read Nicola Yoon’s book and read about her and got really excited about the possibility of what it could be, and I pitched the producers and the studio. I ended up getting the job pretty quickly.
What were some of the biggest differences between making the two films?
My first film, Jean of the Joneses, took a number of years to get made. I wrote it myself and kind of kept it in a drawer for a lot of years, and then was able to make it, it premiered at South By, and then I ended up getting Everything, Everything shortly after the premiere at South By. It’s a different process. It’s a bigger budget, bigger crew, and a wide release - 3,000 theaters - so it’s been a much different process and reached a lot more people.
Did having the bigger budget and bigger crew let you do things you hadn’t been able to before?
I think you probably never have enough money, from what I’m understanding now. But it’s a few more tools you get to play with.
When you read the book, what was it that appealed to you?
The book was just so sweet, it was romantic and funny, and a little dark. It really came across as a fairy tae and a grounded kind of romance. And there was room, visually, to do some interesting things to bring a fantasy element to it.
Could you tell me about bringing that fantasy element to life?
When I first got the script, like the book, there was a lot of texting, and it’s always difficult to handle texting - I think shows and movies are always trying to figure out a good way to present it onscreen. We’re really trying to get to know these two and get to know how they are together, and I thought it was just a good opportunity to use fantasy to have them in the same room and start building up that chemistry to lead up to being in the same room together.
Amandla Stenberg is our current cover star - could you tell me about finding her for the role?
Her name had been top of the list from the start. I ended up meeting her for lunch in LA and we had a conversation, and then she ended up having to go away, she went on a trip to Paris, and she ended up auditioning over Skype while she was in Paris. And we did a few scenes together and talked a little bit, and she was just right for the role.
You say she’d been top of your list, why was that?
She’d been making a name for herself. And talking with Nicola Yoon, she always said she wrote the book for her little girl. The way Maddy was described in the book, there probably wouldn't have been a better person than Amandla. And just from what I’d seen her in, and interviews I’d seen with her, she really had that presence that I thought would be good for Maddy.
In our cover story with Amandla, she talked about how rare it is to have a big, wide-release teen romance movie with a black star and a black woman as the director. Did you feel a lot of responsibility with that?
No, I took on the film because I felt like I was right for it. I felt confident because it felt like I was doing it, and they hired me because it was the kind of project that was meant for me and my sensibility. I felt more of the pressure on a daily basis to make a good film and to make it true to Nicola’s book, and to have it ring true to readers who love her book.
Have you gotten the chance to see the film with an audience of teenage girls?
Yes I have, it’s pretty wild! Young girls are fun to watch it with because they have no filter, so there’s a lot of talking back to the screen and verbally expressing themselves inside, and laughter and giggles and conversation. It’s like a party, a little bit.
With Wonder Woman coming out, I wanted to talk about how the media covers female directors - both you and Patty Jenkins had smaller, critically acclaimed first films and then a big budget second film. Which happens all the time with men, but when it happens with women, the coverage about Patty Jenkins is all “this is a gamble, this is a risk.” Do you see that happening?
I read that for Patty Jenkins. I definitely read that headline and have read others. It’s unfortunate. It’s nice to be able to celebrate the win, which is what people should be doing for Patty, rather than going for a negative headline.
When I’ve interviewed female directors in the past, they’ve talked about having strong relationships with other female directors and other women working in film - do you have that sort of community?
Yeah, it’s always great when you can bounce things off of someone. Last week I met up with Juila Hart, who did a movie last year called Miss Stevens. It’s just nice to be able to have conversations and drinks and just talk about the kind of things that you might face that are unique as a woman.
What can people who aren’t in the movie industry do to get more women and people of color behind the camera?
Go see the movie, you know? Go see the movie in theaters, see it opening weekend, support it, and tell your friends. See what kind of movies you want to see get made, and who you want to see directing them.
Yeah, I read the press release that came out. You never want to offend any community, and I’ve talked to Nicola Yoon about it based on how she’s dealt with it, and the conversations she’s had. For her, she’s always said the book is not about disease, that was always her stance. I just try to adapt what she does to the best of her ability.
Top photo: still from Everything, Everything
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