It’s difficult to pinpoint the most beautiful aspect of Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic novel If Beale Street Could Talk. It is easily the most beautiful film of 2018, and with a director like Jenkins, the mastermind behind the Oscar’s Best Picture winner Moonlight, at the helm, it’s no surprise. But one gift that both Baldwin in his novel and Jenkins in his adaptation give to Black women is the gift of the full spectrum of Blackness and womanness.
In Beale Street, Black women don’t have to choose between identities. Instead, when the love of Tish’s (Kiki Layne) life, Fonny (Stephan James) is falsely accused and imprisoned for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman in 1970s Harlem, the victim, Victoria, is allowed her pain and her trauma. Even as she identifies the wrong man due to pressure from a racist police officer and the devastating reality of being raped, Tish, her sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) and their mother Sharon (Regina King) don’t accuse Victoria (Emily Rios) of lying about being raped. They understand that in this patriarchal, misogynistic world that devalues all women–and women of color even moreso– rape and violence are a very real reality and consequence of existing in the feminine.
In an interview with Shadow and Act, Layne explained why If Beale Street Could Talk is a movie for the #MeToo era, thanks to Baldwin and Jenkins’ vision:
“Barry made it a point to make sure we [the audience] weren’t seeing her [the rape victim] as the antagonist in this film,” Layne said, emphasizing Jenkins’ directions to Rios to stare into the camera for what seems like an eternity so that the audience can really see her and her trauma. “It definitely carries a lot of the #MeToo movement and what’s important about not blaming or…shaming [victims] because this is real trauma, this is real pain.”
If Beale Street Could Talk premieres in limited release on December 14 and wide release January 2019.
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