You might have heard about this film.
You might not have heard about it.
You might have watched this film.
You might not have watched it.
Wherever you are within this spectrum, this review is for you.
By now we as as a people immersed in popular culture have unanimously declared that this movie is everything. The serious people who make their bread in this industry seem to also agree given all the nominations and wins they have received so far (shout out to Regina King for sweeping all the awards this season!)
So I’ll start with what you won’t like about the film being a ‘woke’ millennial in a consumerist world.
In this film there is violence. Both physical, mental and emotional. Both by the state and within the domestic. Both within black love and white hate.
The kind of violence that is not defined in an Oxford dictionary. A violence that sometimes is not solely seen by the physical bruises it leaves behind.
To make it worse, this violence sometimes goes unchecked.
Which violence you may ask at this point?
I believe that given the typical movie ‘mass’ audience, there is a certain responsibility films hold that books can get away with. Particularly disappointing for me, was the unnecessary slip ups of the male gaze or artistic discretions that it made it okay for a woman, no matter how vile, to be beaten. Domestic violence is never okay and I was not impressed by how the entire scene played out. But perhaps art’s job is to imitate life. I think otherwise.
Additionally, contentious as it may be, the sex scenes are as we often tag things these days, ‘problematic’. There was something unloving about Tish and Fonny’s making love scene. Tish’s discomfort, confused for sexual naïveté, during her sexual debut continues to perpetuate a toxic consent culture in which body language is still inadequately translated. Lastly, the continuing prioritizing of male fantasies (read ‘phallusy’) at the expense of female sexual pleasure (read foreplay) shows the gap that still remains in showcasing feminist cinematography within the shiny screens of Hollywood.
But now to the good parts, which to be fair, are the most parts.
This is not your typical boy meets girl love story. Which love story, if good, enjoys the careless yet often told freedom of happily ever afters?
There is no Romeo nor Juliet.
There is a boy and a girl. Then a mother, father, sister, and a community of people who form part of their story. They are each other’s keeper. They are their mothers’ and fathers’ sons and daughters. Perhaps it should be called a kinship story, one which emanates from love.
It is also a black story.
A black story of kinship, pain, incarceration, struggle, beauty, color, America, Beale Street, poetry, art, literature, violence, sex, defunct police system, black lives mattering, motherhood, sisterhood, present fathers, holding on, hope, history, legacy and on and on. All that spice that with a non-romanticized depiction of black life.
So I guess it is a black love story.
My most powerful moment was when Tish’s sister told her to unbow her head when she announced her pregnancy. My heart melted a thousand times over. Here was a young woman, with an incarcerated lover, the one she has to look at through the looking glass. This not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman was being reminded that there is no shame in love and in her choosing to do with her body as she saw fit. I think in a world where young women feel alone and shamed when pregnant there is more need for love and affirmation. A child is raised by a community. A child is a gift. And when a child is there and the woman decides to keep it, this was a reminder that they are a vessel and vessels should never be shamed.
It is also worth mentioning that contrary to the book, the ending is not as visceral. Barry Jenkins, the director, talks of the need to give black people hope in the current political situation. What’s striking is that even this hope demands a pragmatic leash. A reminder that for now black happiness has to be practical. That we do not have the luxury of having art for art’s sake. That we cannot just live within a world of ideas. It is a luxury we cannot afford no matter how much social, cultural and economic capital we accumulate. But then again, no happily ever afters, okay?
Aesthetically, this film is beautiful. I am gawking at the work of cinematographer, James Laxton.
Of wide angles that frame the expansiveness of black lives.
Of focus angles that remind us that each story matters.
Of black skin against pastel shades. Of black skin under yellow light.
With Moonlight, Laxton showed us the power of blue. Here, he brings you the sun rays even in the moments of despair (For a closer look, rewind to the ‘conception’ love scene).
All in all, this film was stellar and I hope if there is one thing you took from watching it, it’s that black skin looks good on pastels so don’t dim your light or love. There is ever so expansive a space for a soul and a skin that looks like yours and mine. These memories we carry, these stories we tell, these lives we live behind the looking glass or after breaking glass ceilings. These are the black love stories that will continue to shape our experiences for generations to come.