At the Tribeca Festival in New York, Angela Bassett reminisced on her role as the titular character in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” She was joined on the panel by the film’s director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, and moderator Torell Sharone Taylor.
Set principally in Jamaica, “Stella” chronicles the erotic escapades of an American woman and a younger Jamaican man. It did well at the box office, and bolstered the island’s tourism.
According to The Los Angeles Times, a month after the film’s release in 1998, “the island saw a 22 percent jump in visitors from the northeastern part of the U.S. alone.”
Based on the bestselling novel by Terry McMillan, “Stella” shows its age in some places. But it continues to inspire conversation on a range of topics, from ageism to Black sisterhood.
Jamaica Is The Chief Setting For The Film
The movie was set to be filmed in Mexico for infrastructure reasons; however, those plans were scrapped. This was a solid move in the interest of preserving the story’s authenticity.
As one of the most popular Caribbean destinations, Jamaica has an inimitable personality that has drawn tourists for generations.
“Stella” might as well be an advertisement by the Jamaica Tourist Board. It doesn’t waste an opportunity to show the island at its best. Shots of pristine beaches and swaying palm trees are accompanied by a soothing, island soundtrack. Even now, the film sends a clear message to viewers, especially Black women. Abandon your work stress, fly to paradise, and maybe you’ll find a lover of your own.
The on-island scenes were shot at Round Hill Hotel and Villas in Montego Bay, and Time N’Place in Falmouth.
Casting Stella Was Easy, But Winston Was Another Story
By the 1990s, Bassett cemented herself as a gifted actress especially in “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “Boyz N The Hood.” Her poise, beauty and sophistication made her ideal for the part of Stella. As a character, Stella enjoys corporate success and plays by the rules until she doesn’t.
Sullivan said that the process of finding an actor to play Winston was more involved. The actor had to be a handsome young man who could believably sweep an older woman off her feet.
“Taye [Diggs] had the attributes that were needed across the board,” Bassett purred in her sonorous voice. “And one of the foremost needed, was he had to fulfill a Black woman’s fantasy.”
In reference to that steamy shower scene between Stella and Winston, Bassett joked, “it’s my fantasy. He has to be naked- not me.”
The ageist tropes in “Stella” are as pervasive as the spicy scenes. Bassett spoke to that, as well as the challenges of navigating an industry obsessed with youth.
“I’m more cognizant of that than usual,” she said, in part. “But, I try not to pay attention to it. As long as I keep a sense of wonder, excitement and love for the craft and for the people I work with, anything is possible.”
Jamaica Is Still A Destination For Lovers
The Jamaica Tourist Board capitalized on the success of “Stella”. It even hosted a special screening for American travel agents.
Not long after the film’s release, a representative from the Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios said, “we’re seeing groups of ladies coming together that look like the type Terry McMillan was writing about. More single ladies. I’ve heard tourists say things like, ‘there’s a Stella thing going on here.'”
A lot has changed in almost 30 years, but Jamaica still knows how to seduce. Whether you book a resort, or a private villa with your beloved, there’s no better destination for romance and adventure.