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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'If Beale Street Could Talk': A Fever Dream of Love, Loss and Bittersweet Acquiescence

Movie poster for the film If Beale Street Could Talk starring Kiki Layne and Stephan James

Set in Harlem in the early 1970’s, writer/director Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” follows the burgeoning love affair between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), childhood playmates and adult lovers who strive for prosperity and validation in a world beset by systematic injustice.

Learning early on that she is pregnant at just 19 years of age, Kiki struggles to divulge her secret to her family and that of Fonny in the days following Fonny’s unjust and mistaken arrest by corrupt police officers. Facing fierce criticism and abject scorn, Tish and her family —including her mother Sharen (a magnanimous Regina King)—dedicate themselves to a proper upbringing for their future progeny as well as the redemption of Fonny from his wrongful incarceration.

They remain steadfast and passionately determined, even as Fonny’s time in jail progresses without reclamation and the plight of his legal team and loved ones becomes increasingly strained. Much of the storyline alternates (via flashback) between their enraptured period of flowering passion and the grievous reality that falls upon them after Fonny’s confinement, providing a fervid depiction of earnest, youthful passion.

Based on the novel by James Baldwin, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is rousing and emotionally galvanizing social commentary—a fever dream of love, loss and bittersweet acquiescence.


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