If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ luminous adaptation of James Baldwin’s searing novel, is an affecting romantic drama, an elegiac coming-of-age film and a poignant family ode; but, these were overriden by, and added further meanings to, by an overarching theme that’s as universal as it’s local, viz. racial prejudice, discrimination, abuse and injustice. The noxious history of racism, the heroic civil rights struggle that attained fever pitch during the 60s and 70s, and the accompanying zeitgeist, formed the film’s dominant canvas and imbued it with a stirring sense of here-and-now; and this transformed the story of its protagonists into a microscopic representation of the times itself. The opening quote from Baldwin, viz. “Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street”, and the rousing B/W pictures that Jenkins sparingly used, emphatically underlined that point. Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) are a young African-American couple belonging to working class New York families. He’s acutely aware of the systemic and collective racism surrounding them, but they love each other and hope to carve a future of their own when, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, they finally finds a deserted warehouse space which they can turn into an apartment so that they can marry and move in together. However, their lives come crashing when he’s accused of rape based on false evidences by a bigoted cop, while she’s pregnant with their child. Filmed with empathy, sensitivity and deep social concern, filled with soft visual textures and a melancholic score interspersed with jazz, and comprising of exquisite turns by all (including the terrific support cast), the film succeeded in counterpointing their personal tragedy with the broader context.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Family Drama