I am a person who has always valued traditions, and my movie theater rituals are no different. Every time I go, I order a box of Bunch-A-Crunch and a medium drink. If possible, I always try to select a seat that is smack dab in the middle of the theatre. So, when I went to the State Theatre to see If Beale Street Could Talk, I sat halfway to the top with my candy in one hand and my drink in the other — everything was going the way it usually does. However, when I looked at the screen, I saw something that I can’t say I see regularly — myself.
From the opening scene, I was graced by the presence of the two main characters – Tish and Fonny. Played by up-and-coming actress Kiki Layne, Tish was a reflection of my deep brown skin, my tightly-curled hair, and the positive perception I have about both of those features. The healthy relationship between two Black people almost mimicked the couples I have had exposure to in my hometown — my parents, my grandparents, and other couples in my family. And most importantly, the love story that director Barry Jenkins put together held a mirror to my inner desire to be a part of a love that overflows with endurance and authenticity. It is a desire held by most Black women, yet often ignored when creating a feature film.
At the very beginning of the movie, a James Baldwin quote stated that there are plenty of Beale Streets across the country. In the eyes of the game-changing author, a Beale Street is simply a place where Black people, our culture and the struggles that come with both dominate. This name could be applied to most predominantly Black areas in the U.S. This particular Beale Street, in this case, was speaking for all of them. Through this story of love, loss, injustice, and poverty, the hundreds of Beale Streets across the nation finally found their voice. Just like the movie title implies, I heard them talk and they had a lot to say about Black love.
The cliche saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Along the same lines, the multiple scenes that showcased Tish and Fonny’s love conveyed quite a message about romantic relationships within the Black community. It most importantly confirmed their existence. When looking at most media today, it is easy to get tricked into thinking that Black women are only involved in relationships that are in some way dysfunctional. The entertainment industry makes it even easier to believe that Black men these days are only willing to call Black women when they are calling them demeaning names. Cut to Lil Wayne saying he’s swearing off Black baby mamas for the sake of his future children’s beauty, or Kodak Black saying he doesn’t want “no Black bitch.” Beale Street disputed both of these ideas. It personified Black people’s ability to love each other long-term.
As the pictures kept appearing, the one-thousand words that were behind them served as a source of inspiration to me. Seeing the way in which Tish’s clothing choices made her melanin pop told me to get on the monochromatic outfit trend. Seeing her, along with her sister (played by Teyonah Parris) elegantly showcase their natural hair made me want to blow dry and twist my hair or rock a puff.
Overall, this Oscar-winning motion picture was an obvious message of praise for darker-skinned Black women. Usually, when a Black woman is included in an awe-worthy love story, her skin is almost always very light relative to the different skin tones amongst Black people. The never-ending stream of movies and shows that only cast actresses like Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, and Tessa Thompson as the quintessential Black girl fail to acknowledge the equivalent beauty and capabilities of their darker skinned counterparts. Though they deserve representation too, this film introduced darker-skinned women to the narrative. It introduced the possibility of a woman with a deeper skin tone being the apple of someone’s eye, treated in a way considered dignified. It contradicted the core standards and stereotypes that most media companies thrive on. Beale Street most definitely spoke, and the world needs to take some notes.
I am a person who has always valued traditions. And one day, I hope to make seeing films that positively portray Black love and darker skinned women one of my movie theater rituals.