Thursday, March 14, 2019

My take on If Beale Street Could Talk


If Beale Street Could Talk, (a film by director Barry Jenkins, who also directed Moonlight).

The film was nominated for three Oscars and Regina King did win best supporting actress for her portrayal of Tish’s mother. The movie, based on a novel by James Baldwin, definitely takes viewers on two different paths depending on their racial background. For many African-Americans a belief in the endemic racism of our criminal justice system overrides all. The young lovers Fonny and Tish, like Romeo and Juliet, are doomed and no efforts to stop the tragedy will be successful.  As a white male I still empathized with the lover’s plight, but did find that I was asking a few more questions about why certain things could not be altered in spite of the racial divide and why some continuity gaps seemed so bothersome. Both groups (and most critics) agree that the film features excellent acting, interesting cinematography, and a compelling musical score. But I am still in the camp that would like to know why certain issues were left unresolved.  

 

For instance, what happened to Fonny’s friend?  Did the alibi he was to provide stand up or did he renege under pressure from the DA? I am still wondering why Tish’s mother and not the lawyer was dispatched to Puerto Rico to talk to the rape accuser. As one reviewer noted that scene simply pitted two aggrieved women against each other in a conflict that neither one could win. Tish appears to be living at home during her pregnancy, then all of a sudden she is back at the love nest to have a water birth in the scummy tub. Not sure I can explain that continuity jump. The fathers resort to thievery to help raise money for the lawyer raising the old question of does one wrong justify further wrongs.  This may just emphasize the difference between Baldwin and Martin Luther King. In the last scene Fonny and Tish’s son seems at least five or six and Fonny is clearly still in jail. Did he plead?  Was he tried and convicted?  Was he still waiting to go to trial?

 

In spite of my minor reservations, the film admirably portrays the broken relationship between the justice system in America and the African American community. It certainly resonates as much today as it did when Baldwin wrote the novel.  I give it four stars out of five.

 

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