"a movie with a touching and compelling true story told with a moving script and portrayed by a stellar and committed cast"
After winning his first Oscar with Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins is back with another socially aware movie on racial discrimination in the American Justice System.
Set in New York in the 60s, the story follows Tish’s desperate quest to prove that her boyfriend and the father of their yet to be born child is innocent. With the help of her family, Tish tries to prove that Alonzo is not guilty and doesn’t deserve to be in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
The story itself is pretty straight forward, however, the narrative moves from the present to the immediate past in a series of meaningful moments. The audience knows Tish’s version of the facts and throughout the film it gives the rest of the puzzle pieces to prove Alonzo’s innocence. A familiar sound or smell triggers Tish’s memory and the audience is given a glimpse of the past that leads her to her present.
Jenkins’ style has a predilection for the emotions and for this reason the camera focuses on the facial expressions of each character living through the story, highlighting their reactions to what is going on to carry the message across in a stronger way.
In If Beale Street Could Talk the topic of racial injustice is at the forefront; however, there is an attention to detail in showcasing the African American culture in all its shades. Family dynamics are prominent throughout the story and it is almost instantly clear that racism is also present even among black people especially regarding their social status. However, rather than linger on the hate and animosity, everything is portrayed with a disarming innocence and tenderness through Tish’s point of view, allowing Jenkins’ talent in turning every tale into a poetic representation of reality to shine through while shocking the audience to their core and still deliver such important messages delicately.
Regina King is the queen of the film. Her role as the protective fierce mother gives her the scope to work with all the emotions. Fear for her daughter and her future, compassion for Alonzo and his situation and the strength to help these two young lovers find justice, pushes her outside of the comfort zone. King is impeccable and passionate in every scene and she becomes the pillar of both families in the quest to save Alonzo.
Both Stephen James and Kiki Layne portray the innocence of youth effortlessly and they both step up when everything goes wrong for their characters; James’ performance as Alonzo is at its best when the protagonist is broken and facing the worst situation life can throw at him.
Layne brings to the screen a refreshing innocence while portraying Tish; she is capable of combining both strength and naivety in her performance, bringing to the screen a well rounded character that is trying to overcome all her hardships by reminding herself that she will always have love on her side.
In an award season that didn’t bring its best game this year, If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the few movies that possesses all the right ingredients to be part of the best picture roaster, although the Academy only gave it a handful of nominations. It is a movie with a touching and compelling true story told with a moving script and portrayed by a stellar and committed cast. A film that fully represents black culture and celebrates the strength of a race through all the injustice it has had to suffer.