In Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton emphasized cool colors: purples, blues, and greens that reflected the haunted, troubled, and yearning spirit of the young man at the center of the story. For their follow-up, an adaptation of James Baldwin's poetic 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk, the tones have shifted to an autumnal glow, as if everyone on screen—especially young lovers Tish and Fonny—are being warmed by a nearby fire.

This inviting adds to the unhurried pace of Jenkins' film, but it also serves to draw viewers closer to the ache at its core. Because while the heart of this masterful work is the tender, passionate relationship of a young Black couple—and the lengths that their families go to to support them when Tish (KiKi Layne) becomes pregnant and Fonny (Stephan James) is jailed on a false rape charge—the realities of the African American experience in the US become unavoidable.

As both Baldwin's novel and Jenkins' film emphasize, the system is often rigged against Black people in our country, with institutions like religion and law enforcement often fanning the flames of tension within their communities. Jenkins and his incredible cast—anchored by amazing newcomer Layne, and the always brilliant Regina King as her mother—perfectly capture how the impact of such macro issues affect one family like shuddering, foundation-cracking aftershocks.

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