If Beale Street Could Talk

Directed by Barry Jenkins who is best known for the Academy Award-winning 2016 movie Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautifully shot and emotionally intimate independent drama that quite effectively critiques the American criminal justice system and racial injustice. Set in the 1970s in predominantly African American Harlem, the plot revolves around a heartbreaking love story between Tish, played by brilliant newcomer KiKi Layne, and Fonny, played by the terrific Stephan James, two young black people who find themselves in tragic circumstances the result of the color of their skin. It is a rather straightforward story but one that elicits a powerful response from the audience, primarily as a result of the outstanding acting performances and craftsmanship of the filmmaker. Resembling Jenkins’ unique narrative structure used in Moonlight, the movie takes a non-linear approach to telling the deeply personal account of Tish and Fonny’s beautiful romance that flourishes despite the adversities that they must overcome. After showing glimpses of the racism that they experience on a daily basis, Fonny is confronted head-on by institutional racism and the flawed criminal justice system after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit. At the same time she has to deal with her fiancĂ© being falsely imprisoned, Tish discovers she is pregnant with Fonny’s child and faces the harsh reality that she may have to raise their child by herself. In a particularly poignant and heart-wrenching sequence, Tish fearfully tells her family about her pregnancy and is somewhat surprised by the level of support given by her parents, but things began to go awry when she tells Fonny’s parents. Her sympathetic and strong mother Sharon, played by the excellent Regina King who won a Golden Globe for her role, has to defend her own daughter against the extremely vicious mother of Fonny who renounces the out-of-wedlock baby as a product of sin. The film’s potency to really capture the racism and injustice felt by the characters is also derived from the source material, the 1974 novel of the same name written by the acclaimed African American author and activist James Baldwin. Overall, I found it to be one of the more emotionally impactful movies, remarkable for capturing the personal side effects of systemic racism and the closely related broken judicial system that unfortunately continues even in today’s modern society.

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