Regina King as Sharon Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk
Best Supporting Actress at the 91st Annual Oscars (2018)
“I don't want to sound foolish, but remember love is what brought you here. And if you've trusted love this far, don't panic now. Trust it all the way.”
Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) are a young couple with a budding relationship, but when Fonny is unjustly arrested, Tish and her family, including her mother Sharon (Regina King), must do everything in their power to fight against an oppressive, discriminatory system and win his freedom.
We’ve encountered our fair share of tough mothers in this column, but Sharon stands out amongst the others as a character that transcends her type. Sharon would do anything for her kids, including Fonny as her daughter’s partner, but she’s not just a self-sacrificing mom. What I love most about Sharon is that she has an incredible social intelligence, which enables her to be very strategic in how she goes to bat for her children. For instance, Sharon knows her husband Joe might be upset about Tish’s pregnancy, so before telling him, she sets up this celebratory atmosphere, insisting that her husband get everyone drinks, which means that when Tish makes her announcement, the happy mood is already set, so Joe is more likely to go along. Sharon would excel in a boardroom: she’d lay you off and make you feel loyal to the company as she does it.
Unfortunately, all of her abilities still aren’t enough when it comes to freeing Fonny. Sharon’s main task is to fly to Puerto Rico to try to convince Victoria, the victim of Fonny’s purported sexual assault, to recant her story. She tries every trick in her arsenal – asking Victoria to empathize as a fellow mother, directly saying that she was incorrect to name Fonny, bringing up her religion – but none of it works, so Sharon is left in the position of having harassed a rape victim into a panic attack, with nothing to show for it. It sucks because it’s such a fragile situation, there are so many ways it could have gone wrong, and it’s not clear that there was anything Sharon could have done differently. But there’s enough ambiguity there that you can imagine Sharon beating herself up for the rest of her life for how she handled it – if only I’d been less forceful, or more empathetic. It’s devastating.
So, we can all agree that Regina King is one of Earth’s most perfect humans, right? First of all, she has one of my favorite voices of all time, so husky, and good-natured, and relaxed. King brings her stabilizing, comforting presence to Sharon: she radiates a warm strength from every fiber of her being. It’s the little things, like the way that Sharon looks at the characters around her with such empathy. Sharon is not a character who grabs for our attention, and yet, I found myself unable to look away from her whenever she was on screen.
Of course, King’s crowning (hah) scene is when Sharon tries to convince Victoria to recant. It’s so emotionally intense, and I can’t imagine the headspace that King had to live in to deliver such a scene. King’s smallest actions show us the complexity of the situation: without it being said to us, you can tell that Sharon recognizes that this woman is emotional dynamite that might explode at any moment if she handles her wrong, but you can also see her desperation to get Victoria’s help, and the way that desperation makes her push, perhaps too hard. And her sobbing afterwards at having lost this opportunity is probably the most moving moment of an incredibly moving film.
If Beale Street Could Talk is such a gorgeous film, both in look, and in score. Of course, it’s intense, and upsetting, but wow, it’s lovely. Barry Jenkins really excels at telling tough stories with beauty, as we’ll see later in Moonlight. The story is compelling, and unfortunately, still very relevant today, and the non-linear timeline works really well. Regina King is the clear standout in terms of cast, but there are a lot of great performances. I especially loved Teyonah Parris in a small role as Tish’s sister, and given her rising star, I’m hoping we’ll encounter her in this column eventually.
Was the Oscar deserved?
Yes, I’m delighted that Regina King got the accolades she deserved.