By Noelle Monge
Film: “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Favorite character: Sharon Rivers
Favorite scene: Tish and Fonny’s first night together
How to view: Hulu
I never would have expected a James Baldwin novel to be adapted into a film. While his work is another level of prolific, it feels almost too precious and delicate to become something so universally accessible. But, after watching “If Beale Street Could Talk,” I feel like every Baldwin prose should be re-created as a visual masterpiece.
And because Barry Jenkins — who won our hearts over with “Moonlight” — was at the helm of this production as its screenwriter and director, it was nothing short of a cultural explosion that illuminated problems of race and police brutality and black love.
In “Beale Street,” artist Fonny Hunt is arrested for a rape he did not commit, and his pregnant fiancé Tish Rivers fights to prove his innocence. The odds are against them, though. Fonny represents the many black men convicted for crimes because they fit a description.
Tish represents the many black women who raise their children without a partner because of the incarceration epidemic. The film paints this picture of injustice by framing it within Fonny and Tish’s beautiful love story.
Objectively, the film is absolutely gorgeous. The warm filter weaved throughout the movie enhances the sense of love and passion between the main characters while colder shots further emphasize the pain in the plot. And the film’s original score will definitely have you dreaming of an intimate moment with a loved one (which is why it was nominated this awards season).
The overall feel of the film is very nostalgic with a slight sense of longing, possibly for justice or for love.
This film was completely different from everything I’ve seen recently, mainly because it possessed and captured life. Let me break this down a little. Film often represents the good and the bad in a very idealized way. People in jail are guilty, people out of jail are innocent.
In real life, however, we know this is not even remotely close to the truth. As more stories on wrongly incarcerated people come to light, it is hard to ignore that too many people go through unnecessary trauma out of prejudice.
While Tish and Fonny’s story is somewhat old-timey, set in early-1970s Harlem, it’s one that rings true to many people today. “Beale Street” works because it presents its audience with a sincere story that doesn’t get a completely happy ending, just like the characters’ real-life counterparts.
A study conducted by University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross shows that a small percentage of all sexual assaults in the United States are black men on white women, but black men make up half of sexual assaults misidentified by eyewitnesses. Fonny was a victim of this trend.
The film also offers us the perspective of the rape victim who misidentified Fonny — a Latina widow raising three children on her own. She wanted justice for herself as much as Fonny wants it for himself.
Aside from the social justice advocacy of the film, I deeply appreciated the portrayals of family from both the Rivers and the Hunts. While the Rivers make the audience crave a support system like theirs, the Hunts remind us no family is unbiased or even perfect.
Sharon Rivers, the family’s maternal figure and my favorite character, challenges the Hunts for their flawed ideology — earning Regina King a well-deserved first Oscar for the performance, for Best Supporting Actress.
I decided to take one point away from the film’s rating because, at times, I felt like there were awkward transitions between the scenes and dialogue used. While I recognize this is the result of transferring such graceful prose into visual media, I think the editing team could have bridged the gap a bit more.
Other than that one point, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a beautiful film that will have you wanting to stand up for our wrongfully incarcerated brothers, sisters and non-binaries.