Recommendation: 4/5 Stars, SHOWTIME
Director: Barry Jenkins, Writers: Barry Jenkins, James Baldwin, Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Plot: “A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.” -IMDB
Review: Author and activist James Baldwin possessed a gift beyond compare. From his mind and through his fingers, he created a true portrait of America before and during the Civil Rights Movement. “If Beale Street Could Talk” is another example of that magic brought to the big screen. Starring Kiki Layne as Tish Rivers and Stephan James as Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, the film focuses on two young lovers tested by a trail few of us will ever know. Fonny finds himself behind bars for something he didn’t do and Tish pregnant with his child. Unmarried, Tish first brings the news to her family with her head bowed. It is here that the most powerful and tone-setting words of the film are uttered by Regina King playing Tish’s mother, “Unbow your head.”
From that moment, Tish’s family rightly celebrates the creation of a new life. Fonny’s mother and sisters at odds with his father bring an entirely different set of dynamics. Embarrassed and ashamed, they look down on Tish and the unborn child. This leads to an explosion between the two families that sets off a film that at times feels more like a symphony than a movie. With raucous highs and depressing lows, this film is a marathon of what it is like to be black in America. It all begins with what it means to be wrongfully accused just because of your skin color.
From behind prison bars, we see the power of racism and evil cops. We also get our first encounter with what the criminal justice system has done to communities of color. In these scenes, Tish is stoic and proud. She spends her days fighting for Fonny’s freedom and planning their future. Fonny fights with all his might to stay optimistic, but the hell that is prison wears on his soul. Their conversations in prison are heartbreaking and depressing. Each encounter gets harder and more challenging.
Behind the walls of a cell, Fonny’s child is brought into his world. The father is absent, because of a system designed to keep him that way. In the end, this film is a plea. It is a plea for fairness. It is a plea for equality and understanding. It is a plea to rethink how we punish. This is a film that Mr. Baldwin would have been proud to watch. His words continue to ring loud and clear in the cinema.
Be good to each other,
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