A meeting through a mutual friend at a barbecue led to director Angel Kristi Williams and novelist Felicia Pride creating the Netflix show Really Love. Pride told Williams she was looking for a director for her first screenplay, which she pitched as a cross between Love Jones meet Blue Valentine set in D.C.
“She shared the script with me and we decided to start collaborating almost immediately," explains Williams. "I read the script and really recognized the characters and the way they spoke because I’m from Baltimore and the story was set in D.C. And she really loved my sensibility for my short film, so we were like ‘let's make it’ and that really started the journey.”
Really Love, from the Black-owned Macro and Homegrown Pictures, among others, follows the romance between idealistic law student Stevie Richmond and struggling artist Isaiah Maxwell as they carve out space for love while also pursuing their individual passions. Queen Sugar’s Kofi Siriboe and Dutch actress Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing, who some may recall as Ruby from the OWN series Love Is (now streaming on ALLBLK), play Isaiah and Stevie. While Black love, a rare topic for feature films, is the primary focus, Isaiah’s struggles with racism in the art world, as well as his challenges with his relationship with Stevie—coming from two different sides of the economic fence—also weigh in.
Recognizable faces in the cast include Michael Ealy as established artist Yusef who is a mentor to Isaiah; Mack Wilds as Isaiah’s day one childhood ace Nick; Naturi Naughton as Stevie’s cousin Sicily Richmond; Uzo Aduba as Chenai Hungwe who helps guide Isaiah’s career; and Suzzanne Douglas (in her last film) and Blair Underwood as Stevie’s well-to-do parents Anne and Jerome Richmond. Art and music is especially rich in Really Love with the work of Gerald Lovell (which largely serves as Isaiah’s canvas in the film), Chanel Compton, and Ronald Jackson featured alongside the sounds of go-go as well as music by Ari Lennox, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and many others also found on the Really Love soundtrack.
“When I initially read the script, I was just blown away by the project in itself,” shares Really Love star Wong-Loi-Sing who wasn’t even auditioning for Stevie at the time. “Usually you might get a little too focused on the character that you're going to audition for, but, in this case, it just was the entire script, the story, the meaningfulness of the project, that got to me at first.”
Even though Wong-Loi-Sing was born in Rotterdam and launched her career in her native Netherlands, she says that she was happy at “just being able to immerse in a story that spoke to me so much.” A lot of Stevie’s experiences are not just unique to the D.C. area or the U.S., she says.
“I went to college, and I know what kind of struggles come with being or striving for something that your community thinks should be the right move, but at the same time having this passion to be creative, and to create, and to think outside of those institutions,” she shares. “There is a huge social, economic and social dynamic around it which I find is very interesting for Black people all over the world, actually. So I was happy to be a part of a story that shows that among other things.”
“I really related to Isaiah’s struggle,” Siriboe adds. “He was trying to balance trying to evolve as an artist and trying to find his purpose, find his passion—and trying to kind of blend those two things. And then also balance love and what comes with that, and just the commitment, relationship, and vulnerability. And I related to that as an artist, as a man. And I just feel like the story, as a whole, is just really a spotlight on the nuances of love.”
Those nuances also appealed to Wilds whose character Nick and his love Mecca (Jade Eshete, perhaps best known as Lauren Turner from Billions) serve as a contrast and as an example of a successful couple living out their passions and balancing love to Isaiah and Stevie's coupledom. As a happily married man himself who met his wife in the D.C. area while filming The Wire, Really Love’s focus on the purity of love is most refreshing to Wilds.
“In cinema nowadays, it feels like in order for our stories to get out, there has to be some type of link to something dramatic versus just seeing love and something as pure as love. And, mind you, we all know that love isn't as clear cut and linear as we want it to be. But I think that's the beautiful thing about this story. You get a chance to see that love isn't always a perfect ending. It's not Cinderella gets the glass slipper on her foot all the time, but you actually see how pure it can be; you actually see how real it feels through the relationship of Nick and his wife or the relationship of Isaiah and Stevie.”
Really Love is streaming now on Netflix.