Community

SJCA: If Beale Street Could Talk Film Discussion

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and sponsorship of Temple Sinai of Saratoga Springs, presents a Zoom discussion of the film If Beale Street Could Talk, the 2017 academy award winner directed by Barry Jenkins and based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name on February 23 at 7 PM.

Jenkins brought a longstanding dream of his to life, to adapt Baldwin’s emotionally potent story to the big screen. The story of a young black
couple’s (Tish and Fonny) romantic dreams come crashing down against the powerful reality of white society. As Baldwin does, Jenkins reveals the harsh social truths. The theme of racial bias is as relevant now as it was in 1974. However, Jenkins did not create a message film, but one about love and family that also conveys a message.

Tish and Fonny have been friends their whole lives. They become romantically involved when they get older. It’s the 1970s and they struggle to find an apartment, as most New York landlords would not rent to black people. Eventually, they find a place in a warehouse being converted to loft apartments. Levy, the Jewish landlord, rents it to them at a good rate because he enjoys seeing couples who are in love,
regardless of race. That night, Tish is harassed by a man while in a mostly white grocery store. He begins to assault her, so Fonny physically throws him out of the store. A white policeman nearby, Officer Bell, attempts to arrest Fonny for it, but reluctantly lets him go when the Jewish woman who runs the grocery store vouches for him and chastises Bell for his racism.

Fonny, who had been threatened by the white policeman, is subsequently arrested for raping a white woman although he was nowhere near the attack. Historically, the accusations resonate with more than a century of such wrongful charges against black men. With Fonny taken to jail, Tish confides that she is pregnant, the last thing any of them needs under the circumstances. Tish’s mother, father, and older sister are steadfast in their support. Her mother gathers the family for a toast. While not denying the difficulties her daughter will face, she exhibits quiet strength and compassion, embracing the new life to come.

“If Beale Street Could Talk is a tough but tender saga,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, “brawny as it is
sensuous, interweaving stark social-realist themes of prejudice and oppression with the aura of love and loss.” The Zoom discussion will be
on February 23 at 7 PM. Registration is required at sjca.sjcf@gmail.com