If Beale street could talk

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.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 18 – 20
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/if-beale-street-could-talk

 

If Beale street could talk

 

Directed by:
Barry Jenkins

Screenplay by:
Barry Jenkins
Based on the novel by James Baldwin

Starring:
KiKi Layne
Stephan James
Regina King
Colman Domingo
Teyonah Parris
Michael Beach
Brian Tyree Henry
Ed Skrein

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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I am not your negro

James Baldwin’s Remember this house was his remembrances of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Within five years all three were assassinated. The documentary I am not your negro uses the words from the unfinished manuscript (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) as narration, film archives, photos and Baldwin being interviewed on TV to document the history of the American Civil Rights movement. On The Dick Cavett show, Cavett seems caught off guards by Baldwin’s serious tone. It’s as if he expected Baldwin to start joking. But for James Baldwin racial segregation was no laughing matter. Tired of American prejudice against blacks, Baldwin left the US in 1948 to go live in France to continue his writing career in freedom. He came back in 1957, after seeing a photo of a black teenage girl entering a desegregated school. She is surrounded be white teens who are spitting on her. That and other images are powerfully inserted in this film. The violent and racist images of the 50s and 60s (photos of white men and boys holding signs with racist slurs and swastika on them) are sometimes mixed with more recent events: the Rodney King beating (I had no idea that his beating had been so violent and intense) and more recent killings of black people by police officers and the Ferguson, Missouri protest. Once he came back in America, Baldwin started to work alongside Evers, Macolm X and MLK. We see him during the 1963 March on Washington with Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr and white actors Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston. He talked and wrote at length about anything relevant to the African-American experience. This included commenting about groundbreaking films like Guess who’s coming to dinner? and In the heat of the night, both films made in 1967 and starred Sidney Poitier. The most powerful moment in the film comes with a clip of a Technicolor Doris Day film. Whiter than white Day, all teeth glaring, is shown in all her glory while we hear her singing a syrupy song. It is juxtaposed with black-and-white photos of black people hanging from trees. Chilling effect! The fact that James Baldwin was gay is only mentioned in a FBI report, proof that Edgar J Hoover was investigating all Civil Rights activists as possible threats for the nation. This documentary is crucial and might be an eye opener for certain people who think that racism does not exist anymore or, worse still, never existed. It has to be seen.

And the Oscar went to… I am not your negro was nominated for Best documentary feature. It lost to O.J.: Made in America who is more than 7 hours long.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I am not your negro

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
James Baldwin
Raoul Peck
from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember this house

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson as James Baldwin

95 min.