If Beale Street Could Talk

This film is the quiet achiever. It crept up on the nominations list for the academy awards and suddenly it is being reviewed, noticed and applauded.

“Jenkins’ Beale street adaption is a richly layered and beautifully atmospheric work of cinematic poetry.”  (Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant) https://screenrant.com

The story is an adaption of the 1974 novel by James Baldwin. The heart of this film is the story of Alonzo, “Fonny” played by Stephen James and his relationship with Tis (Kiki Layne). It’s about young love, family, loyalty, survival and the parallel universe of being African- American in 1970’s USA. But it’s a timeless story of survival, injustice and discrimination that unfortunately continues to this day. It’s a story of people struggling to make do, being, wrongly accused of crime, a legal system that discriminates and the heartfelt story of young love. This is the America James Baldwin knew and wrote about and helped open the eyes of the world to issues of race and discrimination.

Briefly, the narrative is centred on the relationship between Fonny and Tis who have known each other since childhood in the streets of Harlem. Tis becomes pregnant at 19 and they plan a future together. Layer in the differing responses of both families. Fonny’s mother and sisters are judgmental, self –righteous and see only sin. Tis parents are the opposite. Supportive and caring, they try to find ways to help their daughter and her partner. Add another layer to the story. This time, political and race based. Fonny is framed by a white policeman for rape and sent to prison. The relationship and birth of their child is played out against this backdrop.

Director Barry Jenkins, (Moonlight won an Oscar for best picture in 2017) brings a fullness to his characters, a dignity to their relationships and their portrayal. Music, love and humanity can flourish in these streets of Harlem along with crime, discrimination and anger.  Beale street is the place in New Orleans were jazz was born and as the film says, every black person can identify with the legacy of Beale street.

The budget for this film was small ($12million). If Beale Street Could Talk has already won a Golden Globe for best motion picture. It is nominated in 2 categories at next week’s Oscars, Best Music Score and Regina King as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Tis’s mother

It’s a fine film and well worth seeing.

My Rating? ****/5

See the trailer                        https://youtu.be/N4m3t3G3Zqc

Feature image with thanks Nathan Bingle, Unsplash

18 February 2019 | Arts

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