If Beale Street Could Talk
Director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk, which is nominated for three Oscars, is an immersive romance that follows a young couple fighting for their love against the systemic odds. Tish (Kiki Layne) is a shy 19-year-old who recently learned she’s pregnant by her partner Fonny (Stephan James), who is serving jail time for a rape he didn’t commit. As the two fight for his release, the movie flashes between the sweet early days of their romance and the trying ones of the present. It’s about deep love as much as it’s about an unjust justice system.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
While most documentaries pick a subject and follow them for an extended period of time, Hale County, directed by RaMell Ross, takes a less linear approaching, piecing together snippets of the lives of the people in Hale County, Ala., a majority black and poor region. There are scenes of people playing basketball in a school gym, dancing in a parking lot, riding horses, and other mundane activities made to look striking. The brevity of its format has been compared to Vine or Instagram stories, weaving together stories that make viewers interrogate their perception of both race and filmmaking.
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
In 1971, there were few films telling black stories, let alone written, directed, and starring black artists. Multi-hyphenate Melvin Van Peebles changed all that with his revolutionary independent film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which had Peebles filling in the above roles, and more. The movie portrays a black man who manages to evade the police and survive, despite history ending such scenarios otherwise. The movie, which featured a score by Earth, Wind & Fire, was especially influential among the Black Panthers.
Richard Wright’s seminal 1940 novel Native Son has been adapted to film three times. It’s 1951 version is one of the only films to feature a novelist playing the character he wrote. The film was shot in Argentina with English dialogue, helmed by a French director, starring Wright as protagonist Bigger Thomas. After accidentally killing a white woman, Thomas has to weave through black and white sides of the justice system. When it originally aired in the U.S., the film cut out many of the controversial scenes but has recently been restored to its original length.
Life & Nothing More
Spanish director Antonio Méndez Esparza’s 2018 film could easily be mistaken for a documentary with its realist cinematography and use of amateur actors. He vividly captures a story of a Tallahassee, Fla. teenager on probation and his single mother trying to make ends meet with a minimum-wage job, desperately trying to prevent her son from getting swallowed by the criminal justice system. The film has been compared to the intimacy of Moonlight and Boyhood.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
The rest of the films in this lineup will be screened multiple times, but Richard Pryor’s 1979 stand-up special is playing for one night only, on Feb. 21. The iconic comedian influenced generations of stand-ups with his special tackling race, drugs, heart attacks, and family.
Check out the Row House website for a full list of showtimes.