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Movie Review: Barry Jenkins's If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash
From the moment the trailer was released, I have anxiously been awaiting If Beale Street Could Talk. Due to my new job and my relocation to Durham, NC, I have become aware of my ignorance about the lives of others who don't share my background of being a white middle-class female in America. While I have always enjoyed seeing a wide variety of films, my interest has grown in seeing movies featuring characters of color.

In 2017, Theon Hill, an assistant professor at Wheaton College spoke at the ECPA Art of Writing conference, quoted James Baldwin and spoke highly of his writing. In 2018, the keynote speaker at the Joint Librarians of Color Conference, Benjamin Alire Saenz, also speak of James Baldwin and the impact he had on his writing career. And not too soon after, my father asked me if I'd ever heard of James Baldwin due to a pupil of his researching some of the author's work.

I have not read the book the movie was based upon by James Baldwin but is highly regarded in the literary community. It's the story of Tish and Fonny, a couple in love, and also their families, and also their city, their community, and the plight of marginalized people everywhere. For although we spend time getting to know this one group of people, we know we are seeing just one story of many stories that we could learn if we would only stop, linger, and learn about the lives of others.

Tish and Fonny, friends since childhood, are anxious to start their live together, but all of that comes to a crashing halt when Fonny is falsely accused of rape by a Hispanic woman. We see events that happen before, during, and after these key events. We hear the conversations different key players hold in their living rooms, in their kitchens, and in local bars. We are invited into this very private story and feel the moments of joy, hopelessness, and sadness. This is a slow burning unfurling story of pain and tragedy. Yet, the love of the family stands true and firm.

It's also a beautiful picture to watch. The soundtrack, costumes, and set pieces are lovely. And I like the way the story unspooled while jumping through the past and present. It wasn't a chronological take and many moments are skipped. Each moment was carefully chosen. It was lyrical and brought out the mood of the scenes.

I left wondering about the many families that are separated by incarceration and the kids that grow up with daddy in prison. I also connected to my earlier experience in 2018 of seeing The Hate U Give and the families in that story. For me, this was a film of contemplation and a continuation of dialogue that has been going on in my head for awhile. I am continuing to think and grow in this area as I understand the many ways our country isn't a safe place for everyone. All people are made in the image of God. I want to honor God in the way I treat others, especially people who have been oppressed or treated unfairly. This is the heart of God.


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