There’s talk of Oscar nominations for If Beale street could talk, Barry Jenkins’s follow up to Best picture Oscar winner Moonlight. Adapted from civil-rights activist James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, it is a love story between 19-year-old Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and 22-year-old Fonny Hunt (Toronto born Stephan James). Their story is set in Harlem during the early 1970s. When Tish announces she is pregnant, her parents Joseph (Colman Domingo) and Sharon (Regina King in an Oscar worthy turn) are surprisingly supportive. They have more problem telling Fonny’s mom (an explosive Aunjanue Ellis) who is not one to mince words. But after they start living together, the couple has other problems. Fonny is falsely accused of rape and arrested by a racist cop. Tish knows that Fonny has an alibi, and she finds out that witnesses claim that a white man was the rapist. Worse, it seems that the victim has suddenly, and conveniently, moved back to her native South-American country. Desperate to help, Sharon flies there and tries to find her. Such is the plight of African-Americans, then and now. As he did with Moonlight, Jenkins chronicles the lives of American black communities. It seems to us that we are watching something new, innovative, and we are unprepared to see something so fresh, new and real. The emotional impact is coming from every directions at once. The production values are exceptional. From cinematographer James Laxton’s bright colors, to composer Nicholas Britell’s jazz infused score, there is not a wrong turn in the film. It has a perfect ensemble cast, headed by the brilliant Ms. King. But what that impressed me most is the screenplay. James Baldwin’s words (Oscar nominated documentary I am not your negro was about Baldwin and his writings) are treated with so much respect, spoken with such reverence, that it felt that the actors were reading poetry. As if Baldwin was a modern-day Shakespeare. That’s one of the best reason to see If Beale street could talk.
And the nominees are… I thought it could have been a very good Best picture nominee, but it only has three nominations. But there are only three: the Barry Jenkins screenplay, Nicholas Britell’s evocative score and Best supporting actress Regina King. I think King might get it.
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 18 – 20
If Beale street could talk
Based on the novel by James Baldwin
Brian Tyree Henry
Rated Parental Guidance