If Beale Street Could Talk: A tender and mesmerising film about love, injustice and family.
Based on James Baldwin’s novel ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, the film is a romantic drama written and directed by Barry Jenkins. Combining prose from the novel to set the scene and shape our understand of events through narration by Clementine “Tish” Rivers (Kiki Layne), the film is set in the early 70’s in Harlem.
It is the story of two children whom, having grown up together, fall in love with each other as young adults, eventually forming a couple with a shared apartment, a shared life until an incident where Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) is identified in a line-up and charged for raping Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios). Unbeknownst to the protagonists, this incident would signify an emotionally devastating shift in their lives as their short-lived, all-encompassing love is interrupted by the victimisation of Fonny as he is wrongly accused of rape.
Although he has a solid alibi, the charges against him are reinforced by police officer Bell’s (Ed Skrein), claims that he witnessed Fonny fleeing the crime scene. Imprisoned for the alleged crime, Tish and her family: mother (Regina King); sister (Teyonah Parris); father (Colman Domingo) and Fonny’s father (Michael Beach) work together in order to prove Fonny’s innocence and clear him of this wrongful accusation before the birth of their child.
‘Beale Street is a film about love, family, determination and the search for justice and liberation as Fonny’s imprisonment also alters the pace of his loved ones’ lives. In the film, pain isn’t glossed over, it is displayed with a tenderness that is just as raw from the characters expressing it, as the rage one often feels relating to the injustice of the issues addressed. The finesse with which the characters’ stories are told; the way their humanity is presented and the passion and tenderness between Tish and Fonny shown through flashbacks, teases the belief of a happy-ending. However, this belief is interrupted by challenges in Fonny’s judicial process and for the viewers sharing the same markers of identity as the characters, the historical contextual awareness of the outcome of similar incidents poses a barrier of believing anything but.
The feature is a cinematographically mesmerising film with the power to move you, by the tenderness with which the complex experiences of the young couple is recounted. Jenkin’s ability to showcase a black narrative on discrimination, racial bias and the subject of rape in a sensitive, and non-brutal manner, we have grown accustomed to digesting in film, news and social media is refreshing. The rich use of artistic, sound, literature and visual devices contribute to illustrating a representation of black bodies and experiences, rarely seen on mainstream screens. It is a film that deals with the socio-political complexities that continues to disrupt our society and lives. As such, this movie deserves to be seen multiple times as it offers an intimate and alternative view of a ‘black experience’; a glimpse into our humanity, culture and interestingly so, different relationship dynamics.