If Beale Street Could Talk

In a world of big-budget action flicks and melodramatic thrillers, “If Beale Street Could Talk” concerns itself with the individual lives and experiences of its characters and their community.

Nominated for Best Motion Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, among other awards, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a quiet film. However, it’s its quietness that resonates with the audience. 

Many scenes seem less like a movie and more like a hidden camera chronicling the lives of Harlem’s inhabitants in the early 1970s. Tish’s narration throughout sounds as though she’s talking directly to the individual.

With breathtaking cinematography and a heart-wrenching score, Tish chronicles the love story between herself and Fonny. Through flashbacks, she documents their shared innocent friendship in childhood, their passion for each other in adolescence and the hardships they face as they enter the adult world too soon. While only 19 and 22, the two decide to marry and share the life they always dreamed of together.  

However, their hopes and dreams of a future together are shattered when Fonny is falsely accused of rape. He is taken to prison and separated from Tish shortly before she learns she’s carrying his unborn child. In hopes of freeing him, Tish works long hours at the department store far into her pregnancy to help pay for the never-ending legal fees. Other family members resort to crime for money.

While some concern was sparked at how such a delicate subject matter as a false rape accusation would be handled, director Barry Jenkins handles the topic with grace.

Fonny’s accuser was a woman who left little doubt in the validity of her claim. Her trauma was real, and her pain was real. She was a victim, just not Fonny’s victim. But in her sorrow and pain, she became willing to put an innocent man away for her own peace of mind. In the end, it didn’t matter if Fonny was guilty; she wanted closure. She’s both victim and villain in this story.

The accusation is further complicated by the exploration of the intersectional relationship between class and race. Fonny is picked off the street for a lineup because he’s a working-class black man — an easy target. The woman points Fonny out in the lineup because it’s what she was encouraged by a police officer to do.    

Interwoven throughout the film are photos of real-life victims of racism and classicism throughout the history of the United States. While Fonny’s story is fiction, his experiences are not unique and reflect that of so many men before him. The legal system lacks justice for those of the lower class. Even when innocent, they cannot afford all that’s needed to win. There are many Fonnys and Tishes in the world.

For those who loved Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a powerful and gut-wrenching follow up. It’s a strong contender for the best movie of 2018.

It’s juxtaposing of systematic suffering and the joys and freedom of love weave an unforgettable story that’s not to be missed. It’s perhaps the most powerful movie of 2018.

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