Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Ines Rodier, BA Development Studies and Politics

After seeing this movie, I first felt frustration and dissatisfaction. I had just seen another remake of Romeo and Juliet, with the two heroes being in love and the world trying to separate them. The rare dialogues and the abundant visual shots did not appeal to me so much and I wondered why the director would have lost the complex political potential of such a story. That was before I gave more thought about the whole project this movie was. I realised how the director Barry Jenkins had managed to keep the virtuosity of the romance while never giving up on denouncing the ugly truth of the racist system in the USA.

Set in early-1970s Harlem, the movie is about two young African-Americans, Tish and Fonny, who have to fight against the established order to be together. Their love story is threatened by Tish’s mother who sees their union reluctantly, the estate agents who appear very hostile to let a place to the black couple, and the police who arrest Fonny on a trumped-up charge of rape despite having Tish as an alibi. The fear and despair felt as a consequence is nevertheless secondary compared to the feelings of love and hope that inhabit the characters. The movie begins with Tish asking Fonny “You ready for this?”, to which he replies: “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my whole life”. Jenkins inserts several breaks into the movie, during which time stops and the spectator can look at the lovers silently and passionately gazing at each other. Additionally, the support shown by Tish’s mother, sister and father are great illustrations of what Kiki Layne, playing Tish, calls “black love”.

With a context that is extremely relevant today, Jenkins’ decision not to centre his movie on denouncing race issues in the United States could be questioned.

Yet, by choosing to be faithful to the author of the book, the acclaimed James Baldwin, and making the topic of love its first focus, the director offers a deeply humanist discourse.

While this movie is clearly a political statement against current issues of racism, this never overshadows the tale of the black couple and their families. Finally, the main message of the movie is that anger and injustice will never defeat love and compassion.: Tatum Mangus (Annapurna Pictures)

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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