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                         If Beale Street Could Talk

                            Junious Ricardo Stanton

 

 Do yourself a huge favor; see the motion picture If Beale Street Could Talk as soon as you can before it is pulled from theaters.  It will not be pulled because it is a poorly crafted and shot film, but because it is a low budget film produced by a company that has not spent much money marketing their film.

The film is directed by Barry Jenkins a talented story teller who has also directed several other “art type” films, meaning he focuses his energy and creative talents on characters and stories rather than CGI, violence and gratuitous sex. The film is about Black love, family and being Black in America in Harlem in the 1950’s. The film is based on a novel by the great author and social critic James Baldwin. If you know anything about James Baldwin you know he holds up a mirror to America and tells it like it is, straight no chaser.

Without spoiling the whole plot, Jenkins shot the film using flashbacks and back story to show how two youngsters Alonzo “Lonny” Hunt and Tish Rivers played by Stephen James and Kiki Layne respectively, life long friends whose families know each other and have known Lonny and Tish since they are kids discover love and plan to be together. Circumstances put a halt to their plans and we watch as they are forced to adjust, cope and strive to maintain their relationship despite the egregious discrimination, disrespect and challenges Black folks are forced to endure on a daily basis that severely complicate their lives but they refuse to allow to beat them down.

Regina King gives a stellar performance as Tish’s mother a woman of optimism and a deep love for the couple. It is a powerful film is about Black family, told in a by-gone era when Black men were men; fathers did what they had to do to raise their children, love them and help them during their trials and tribulations.

Lonny like many Black males through no fault of his own, gets caught up in the system; accused of a crime he did not commit which turns both families’ lives up side down. Baldwin’s novel and Jenkins film depict Lonny and Tish’s lives through the socio-economic and racial realities of New York City; landlords who won’t rent to them, a racist policeman who frames Lonny because he dared to protect Tish from a white man’s uncouth advances and we hear Lonny’s friend Daniel tell him what the system and prison did to him. Subsequently we discover through dialogue how the police and DA scoop Daniel up and lock him away so he cannot provide an alibi for Lonny that would help prove his innocence.

The families search for a lawyer to take Lonny’s case. They find a young white attorney willing to take the case.  Looking at the facts he realizes Lonny is innocent but the families’ lack of financial resources hampers his ability to get Lonny out of jail. The attorney does what he can to deal with the corruption of the system; but he also sees the stark contrast between the Hunt and Rivers lives and his own privileged background.

All the supporting characters are extremely talented and provide great character presence. Colman Domingo plays Tish’s father a man who loves his daughter who does what he can to raise money to get Lonny, a boy he has known all his life and the man his daughter loves, out of jail. He does this because he knows Lonny and that the system is rigged against Black people. Michael Beach plays Lonny’s father who loves his son but is fearful what the system will do to him. The two fathers partner together to hustle and do what they can to raise the money to pay for a lawyer and get Lonny out of jail.

The film is narrated by Tish and the flashbacks provide meaning and substance to her experiences and how she sees the world. There is one funny scene between the two families but there are stark contrasts between the River’s marriage and the Hunt’s.

I promise not to give any more of the plot away but you need to see this film. The camera shots of the faces and expressions of the actors are awesome; there is a gritty realism, the all too familiar feel of the oppressive conditions Black people face daily interspersed with a unique vision of Black love and family.

As a writer Baldwin never shied away from American racism and its devastating and grinding impact on the lives of Black people yet in the midst of all that he depicted Black love, resilience and hope.

This film captures that essence. The ending may surprise you but the film will stick with you after you’ve left the theater. Please go see If Beale Street Could Talk.

 

                                    -30-

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Great review.  I concur.  It was wonderful to see a film about Black people who love one another.  Go see this film, if only to support Barry Jenkins so that he will be able to make more films of this quality.

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