James Baldwin is easily one of the most, brilliant, polarizing authors of his time. Not afraid to speak up or speak out on issues as they pertain to people of color was admirable, yet terrifying as he navigated through a world that refused to accept people of color and being queer.
However, in his novel If Beale Street Could Talk, Baldwin puts a spotlight on people of color from the lens of an unjust justice system, single motherhood, the strength of family in crisis and the caste hierarchy system within the African-American community.
When the line is spoken “No one should ever have to see a loved one through a pane of glass,” and the film kicks off with ‘There are days when you wonder what your role is in this country, and what your future is in it. This is one of them. The thing that tormented me the most was the very thing that connected me to all the people who are alive. I’ll tell you a story if I may,’ you know you are about to go a ride that has bumps, lumps and a dose of realness as only Baldwin’s prose could provide.
Adapted by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk focuses on a young couple whose happiness and future plans are derailed when Fonny is misidentified for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s hard to infuse comedy into such a sensitive subject, but Jenkins does so very effectively to enhance and not distract from the story at hand.
The performances across the board are spectacular. Regina King is an exceptional actress who has been garnering many well-deserved accolades for her dramatic work in numerous John Ridley projects including American Crime. This performance may very well assist in her grabbing her first Oscar nod. The scene with her and Victoria, who has falsely accused Fonny of rape, in which she refers to Victoria as ‘daughter’ shortly before she has a complete mental meltdown before our eyes is heart wrenching and King is strong and present for every moment. That moment when a mother realizes that even with the best of intention, her efforts were good enough to turn back the hand of time for her own daughter.
Colman Domingo and Michael Beach prove that there are men in our community that step up when they are needed most, even if their ego takes a hit. It’s a beautiful thing to watch two brotha’s bonding over fatherhood and being the breadwinner. Their scenes together are real, raw and hilarious.
Teyonah Parris as Ernestine is that relative with the 60’s activist attitude who’s just a tad bit rough around the edges, but has all that under wraps while she works a law firm is pure comedy. Aunjanue Ellis as the Bible-thumpng judgmental mama is comical, yet sad. If you have ever been to a church in your life, you surely crossed paths with this doll. You know the one who just feel like everyone is not serving the Lord better than her? Baby, the scene where it revealed that she is about to be a Grandma is one that every family will relate to…not just one of color.
This film belongs to Kiki Layne and Stephan James. As Tish and Fonny, they exemplify what black love looks like. It’s undeniably breathtaking when you find the right one. Their story addresses what it’s like for a woman when her man is unexpectedly removed from the picture and how prison leaves a psychological imprint in a man’s heart and soul that is not easily healed…if at all.
Barry Jenkins cinematography is a whole other character weaving a bobbing between the characters like a beautifully choreographed ballet. His second project right off the heels of Oscar proves he definitely has the staying power to make artistic, powerful, tasteful films, while telling our stories with gorgeous grace.
Produced by Annapurna, If Beale Street Could Talk was by far one of my favorites at the Toronto International Film Festival and it will become yours too when it hits theatre on December 25th.