It’s been almost two years since Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight won best picture at the 2017 Academy Awards. Since, audiences have been yearning for the hard-working director’s next project. Later that year, Jenkins would announce that a script he was working on since 2013 would finally see the light – an adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. “To translate the power of Tish and Fonny’s love to the screen in Baldwin’s image is a dream I’ve long held dear,” said Jenkins. And in October of 2017, his dream would become a reality as the film would begin its production.
If Beale Street Could Talk is the love story of 19 year old Tish and 22 year old Fonny, a young black couple in 1970’s Harlem, NY. As the couple dreams of their life together, they soon realize that their plans will have to be put on hold as Fonny gets arrested for a crime he did not commit. Thus birthed a new life of pain and unsuspecting devastation for the young couple, amidst their flourishing love, leaving audiences to realize the harsh reality that isn’t just for entertainment purposes, rather a reflection of what goes on in many urban communities in the real world.
Jenkins once again proves how powerful black love is in real life and on the big screen. With Tish and Fonny, played by Kiki Layne and Stephan James, it is more than just conveyed: it is emphasized in these characters. With every word they say to one another and with every longing look of love they give, it is evident that love is a forceful power between the two leads. And the love story of Fonny and Tish showcased the unconditional strength of black love, providing cinematic poetry thanks to Jenkins’ direction.
But Beale Street isn’t always rainbows. With Fonny’s unjust arrest, the couple is forced apart at a time they should be celebrating new life. And it’s what makes the film such a beautiful tragedy that so many black couples and families around the United States know too well. For too long, black men have had to put up with this corrupt justice system while black women are forced to raise babies on their own. The film captivates this realistic struggle so well and emphasizes the strength with which black women continuously use to keep their families together.
As the film progresses, so much is revealed about the black experience in America. From black love and manhood to broken families and friendships, Jenkins’ adapted screenplay feels both timeless, fresh and moving. Even beyond the incredible dialogue and character interactions, it is Jenkins’ camerawork that helps sell the film’s concepts when Tish’s narration doesn’t. The long profile shots mixed with the perfect emotion emitted by the cast instantly elevates the watching experience and will make audiences fall in love with everything this film has to offer.
When the film is at its highest point of conviction, it is subtle yet so obvious. These constant moments are so pure, honest and raw, and contribute to the profound experience of watching Love overcome. Within these moments, Nicholas Britell’s score encompasses the emotion that is so elegantly conveyed on screen. Together with James Laxton’s cinematography, Beale Street exudes passion and precision when it comes to defining and portraying the beauty of Black Love and the pain of being Black in love in 1970s Harlem. With every still presented and word uttered, audiences will find it hard to not trust love despite the injustices and pains faced by the characters.
It’s hard to imagine how one film could fill you with so much love yet overwhelm you with an equal amount of pain. But that’s exactly what Beale Street does and what so many black communities experience. Barry Jenkins’ passion project will be a force to be reckoned with when Beale Street gets a wider release in theaters and come awards season. But it’s only a testament to his storytelling, which is full of meticulous emotion yet grounded in truth and reality. Audiences will be captivated by this intimate story that reveals so much about society. But above everything, it will be easy to trust love all the way even after only one watch.