Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, “If Beale Street Could Talk” centers around a young couple in Harlem, Tish and Fonny, whose lives are transformed when Fonny is falsely accused of rape. In spite of its traumatizing plot, “Beale Street” is not a film about Black sorrow; instead, this film is an illustration of Black love and the strength of Black women.
On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations were revealed. “Beale Street” is represented in three of the nominated categories: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Regina King) and Best Original Score. An adaptation that underlines the beauty of Black men and women, and with darkskin leads at that, is nominated for three Academy Awards.
“I’m excited to be on the screen in this story, with all of this love between us, and I’m glad we do look like this, because I don’t think we’ve had the opportunity to be like, we love too.” – Actress, Ki Ki Layne (Tish)
Layne revealed she had her doubts in being selected, as a darkskin woman, to be the leading lady of this film. “It’s no secret the effects that colorism has on casting,” she said. “I saw some people say somethings like how are they going to market this? She’s a no name dark skin.” She continued, “even I had those questions too. When I found out he (Stephan James) was cast, I [wondered] will they pick me?”
Many of us are aware of colorism and the impact it’s had on Hollywood’s casting selections; yet, “Beale Street” features a cast of beautiful dark skin men and women, which include, Regina King, Teyonah Parris (“Dear White People”) and Brian Tyree Henry (“ATLANTA”, “Widows”), among others. And, while Blackness is not defined by skin color, it’s important that Black stories – particularly Black love stories – are shown among Black people of all shades. Representation matters.
“I don’t have an actor in mind when I’m writing the script or the character. I hope an actor will walk in the door and show me who the character is,” said Jenkins. Interestingly enough, in the original novel, Fonny is described by Baldwin as a light skin man, but Jenkins did not let that factor deter him from casting James.
“With both Ki Ki and Stephan, there is this very pure, sort of lush innocence to their love; yet, because of the journey they go over, there’s this very seasoned evolution they go through – these old souls they have to have. And I feel like both of them had that thing. And when we put them together it was very clear that they had that thing together. So it was the right choice to make.”
As a young woman who grew up in New York City, in a household of Black women and men, “Beale Street” felt like home. Whether it was the friendship displayed between Fonny (James) and Daniel (Henry) or the family dynamics between the strong Black women, the film felt like the purest form of Black love.
When asked which scenes felt the most familiar to his Black childhood experience, James revealed the scenes with Henry were some of his favorites.
“For me, I’d have to say some of the moments with Brian Tyree, who plays Daniel in the film. Just some brotherly love moments. Moments where you don’t have to feel ashamed or scared. And be vulnerable,” James continued.
“Two black men being fully expressive of their pain. And their journeys and the things they sort of have to deal with on a day to day basis and to hear that dialogue is a crazy thing. But we know that in real life and now we get to see that on the screen.”
Colman Domingo, actor and playwright who stars as Mr. Rivers, revealed the love scene between Tish and Fonny impacted him the most.
“There’s one scene that really affected me and that was the scene where Tish and Fonny make love for the first time. Because I had thought, I had never seen such delicacy with a Black man on screen, to see him gentle and asking permission. And elevating this young woman as well. And the look on their eyes.”
He continued, “And I thought it was so beautiful and I actually thought about it. I’ve never seen that before.”
The beauty in our stories being told by our people is that Black storytellers are often more capable of creating safe, familiar spaces that welcome vulnerability.
“Barry leads by example. He sets the tone that’s so safe,” said King. “The very definition of an actor really showing his/her art is vulnerability, and when you’re in a safe space, that vulnerability just can [exist]. You can be. Barry created that for us, and he allowed us to take ownership, and brought us along on a journey that we had no idea that it was going to affect us this way.”
King is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mrs. Rivers. She received a Golden Globe for the same category in January. Congratulations to the cast of “If Beale Street Could Talk” on all of their Academy Award nominations!