If Beale Street Could Talk

January 11, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Directed by: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”)
Written by: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”)

If you’re unfamiliar with the work of late African-American novelist James Baldwin, the socially conscious writer broke barriers throughout his career with stories about a host of complex and personal issues, including racism, religion and homosexuality. In 2016, the documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro,” which was adapted from one of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts, earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination and featured actor Samuel L. Jackson narrating Baldwin’s own ideas about American history and civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

The beauty of Baldwin’s writing, once again, resonates in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a drama by filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for screenwriting and a nomination for directing the critically acclaimed 2016 film “Moonlight.” In the hands of Jenkins, Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name is adapted into an observant and touching story of young, requited love, but also one that shoots straight to the heart of how systemic racism has shattered black and brown lives for generations.

Set in Harlem in the early 1970s, “Beale Street” follows Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James), a black couple whose childhood friendship has blossomed over the years into true love. Their romance, however, is put on hold when Fonny is wrongly arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison, where his fate hangs on the testimony of one racist cop (Ed Skrien) and a woman (Emily Rios) choosing the easiest route for justice. While locked up, Fonny learns that Tish is going to have his baby — a piece of news that makes Tish and her mother Sharon (Regina King) even more desperate to prove Fonny’s innocence before he fades into the prison system.

At times, “Beale Street” feels like we’re watching a stage production, with Jenkins’ approach to crafting conversations between characters allowing ample time for each line of dialogue to have its moment. But Jenkins always finds his way back to his cinematic roots. His distinctive style and framing are fitting for a film like “Beale Street,” where looking into the faces on screen is just as important as hearing the words they’re speaking.

Through its nonlinear storytelling, “Beale Street” controls its pacing and draws it out effectively. Like “Moonlight,” its slow-burning narrative pairs well with the deep-seated emotion Jenkins is hoping to tap into. In “Beale Street,” he has found the epitome of love as a tool for survival and the sacrifices a family will make to protect their own. Reteaming with “Moonlight” Oscar nominees Nicholas Britell and James Laxton for a stunning original score and pristine cinematography, Jenkins has transported audiences to a place where the only cure for hopelessness is fighting through the pain.

Emily Rios – The Bridge (TV)

July 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the new FX drama series “The Bridge,” actress Emily Rios (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) plays Adriana Mendez, a young reporter for the El Paso Times, who is assigned to write a story on a murder believed to be committed by a serial killer working on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. During an interview with me, Rios, 24, talked about what attracted her to a show like “The Bridge” and revealed what TV series she auditioned for that she would’ve turned down if she had been offered a role.

After experiencing a show as highly acclaimed as “Breaking Bad,” when another TV opportunity comes around like “The Bridge” do you look for that same quality?

You definitely don’t want to take a step backwards. It’s been a blessing to be able to do these types of jobs. I’m just lucky jobs like this have been coming around. I know they’re very rare in this business, especially in the TV world.

Tell me how you got involved with “The Bridge” and what attracted you to the story?

My manager also manages [actor] Ted Levine (who also stars on “The Bridge), so I think that’s how the word of mouth came along. Obviously, it was one of those highly anticipated TV shows. I remember reading the script for the pilot and thinking, “Yes, this is exactly the kind of project I want to be working on.” After “Breaking Bad,” I was like, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen next?” Luckily, it was a great project.

What was it about your character Adriana that you liked?

I like the fact that it’s not a stereotypical role. She’s Mexican, but she doesn’t have to have an accent and she doesn’t have to be working as a cleaning lady or whatnot. She is an actual character that could be played by just about anybody. She’s an educated woman that has a goal to be a writer and be her own person.

Why does a location like Texas/Mexico border make for such an interesting narrative to build a show around?

It was a great idea to get into the story about the missing women in Juarez. Who knows if it’s a serial killer [that has been killing these women] or several people, but it really captures the difficult times that are happening on the border. It’s been happening for years, but no one really wants to talk about it. It was a way to tap into that. It’s a great way to talk about the tension that is happening on the border.

The debate on immigration as well as drug issues, of course, is always controversial between conservative and liberals. Does “The Bridge” pick a side on either topic or does it try to keep the politics out of it?

It tries to be unbiased. That’s what I love about it. It lets you have your own opinion on it. There is obviously going to be [characters] involved who are going to talk politics because of the topics we’re speaking about, but the show isn’t about pushing you in one direction or the other.

When was the last time you were in Mexico? Do you think it’s a safe place to visit now?

I was there last week as a matter of fact. My grandfather passed away, so I went to his funeral in Tijuana. He was buried alongside my grandmother there. My parents actually have a home in Rosarito, Baja California. My parents gave all their children a key to the house, so if we ever want to go on vacation we’re more than welcome to go. It’s a beautiful home overlooking the ocean. Maybe five years ago before Vicente Fox got out of office there was still a big military presence on the border. There were a lot of checkpoints. But with the new president (Enrique Peña Nieto), all of that went away. You definitely feel a little safer, but at the same time you still don’t know who you can trust. But I have numerous aunts and uncles and cousins who live there, so I visit often and feel comfortable there. It’s a second home to me.

And you grew up in El Monte in California, so I’m guessing Tijuana is the closest city in Mexico to you?

Oh, no joke, yeah. I grew up in a highly Hispanic neighborhood. It was very rare to find any race other than Mexicans. I feel very comfortable around Spanish speakers and people from Mexico and people who don’t always feel comfortable living in the U.S. because they are in fear of being deported.

Now that Republicans have lost another election and seem to be realizing how much they have at stake if they don’t compromise on Hispanic issues, do you think we’re going to see some kind of immigration reform anytime soon?

Well, we’re definitely taking over. We have a large presence all over the U.S. Everybody is trying to live that American Dream. There are students who are going to school who are “illegal” who are just trying to make a better life for themselves. They do this under the radar, which is very unfortunate. I’m sure many of them would love to go back to Mexico to visit family members, but they can’t. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time very enlightening. Shows like “The Bridge” bring discussions about immigration. People don’t have to be afraid to talk about it. This is a discussion we need to have so people can start making decisions about what to do about it.

The show is also groundbreaking in the fact that it’s on an English language TV station and is bilingual. Do you think people will be receptive to that?

You know, even growing up going to school I had teachers that were against bilingual teaching. I never understood that. My parents always had me speak Spanish first knowing I was going to speak English in school. I like the fact they’re not letting anyone take away our Spanish. “The Bridge” is keeping it 100 percent true. Even the way Demian Bichir talks to his son and also to Catalina Sandino Moreno, those are real bilingual conversations that are very common. Even with my family in Mexico, who travel to the border near San Diego, they speak English and Spanish. I like the fact they’re keeping it very genuine. I like the honestly about it.

Earlier you said one of the reasons you like your character in “The Bridge” is because she’s not a stereotypical character – she’s not a cleaning lady. So I have to ask, as a young Latina working in this industry, what do you think about a show as controversial as “Devious Maids,” which some people feel is demeaning in a lot of ways?

(Laughs) Oh, wow. I have very strong opinions about it, but I don’t want to be too blunt about it. I auditioned for the show, which wasn’t something I was jumping for joy about. You have to respect certain people like [creator] Marc Cherry and the people involved. I do love all the actresses involved. They are all amazing, phenomenal actresses. They all have amazing resumes. But personally, [a show like “Devious Maids”] is not something I would want to do. I want to steer away from the stereotypes that Latina women are categorized in. I feel like there are so many more opportunities for us. I like going out for those roles that says “open ethnicity.” Especially being Latina and knowing we come from so many different places and so many different races, I know we can fit into any role. We can play any roles we want. I played an Asian character in a movie I did with Steve Buscemi (“Pete Smalls is Dead”). Those are dream roles in a sense because they are opening the doors for other roles. Just because we have a Spanish last name doesn’t mean that we have to be categorized into certain roles. I would really love – not necessarily to boycott a show like [“Devious Maids”] – to just come together and agree that we shouldn’t be on shows like that. There a so many bright girls on that show.

Did I hear you correctly when you said you auditioned for a role on the show?

(Laughs) I did.

Did you feel like you had to audition?

Definitely. It was something I felt was necessary just to meet the people involved like Eva Longoria and Marc Cherry. It’s definitely something I didn’t want to do. I was the only girl that went in to audition wearing Jordan sneakers. (Laughs) Everyone else was in dresses and high heels. I just wanted to go in there and meet everyone. I do find it comical. It wasn’t something I was jumping for joy about. It’s ironic in a sense because I did it out of respect, but it was very disrespectful of me to go in to the audition in sneakers and jeans. I also felt I was the youngest girl there and felt so out of place. I didn’t feel comfortable in the room, to be honest. But we have to go in there and do our jobs.

Wait a minute. Despite your sneakers and jeans, what if you had impressed them enough to land a role?

Oh, I would’ve turned it down. But going in there with Marc Cherry in his purple shirt, he was kind of looking at me like I was crazy.

So, no 6-inch heels for this audition.

No 6-inch heels. I was surprised I even put my hair down.

Emily Rios – Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

February 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Emily Rios was 16 years old when she landed the first lead role of her young career in the small independent film “Quinceñera.” Little did she know, “Quinceñera” would surpass everyone’s expectations and go on to win the coveted Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Since that fortunate break six years ago, Rios has made every great opportunity she has been given count. Most recently, she has earned recurring roles on hit TV shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Men of a Certain Age,” and “Friday Night Lights.” Although TV is something she is always open to, acting in films is what she is focused on right now.

In the new comedy “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son,” which hits theaters Feb. 18, Rios plays Isabelle, a young graffiti artist who attends an all-girls performing arts school where Big Momma (Martin Lawrence) and his son Trent (Brandon T. Jackson) go undercover after Trent witnesses a murder.

During an interview with me, Rios, 21, talked about her appreciation for all forms of art and admits why she doesn’t consider lowbrow comedies like “Big Mommas” her kind of humor.

Has the auditioning process become easier since your first experience in “Quinceñera?”

(Laughs) Yeah, it has. I think I had to audition for the part in “Quinceñera” about four times. For this I just had to read for the producers and the director. But “Quinceñera” was one of my first auditions, so I really didn’t understand the process. Now I’m more knowledgeable about it, so that helps calm my nerves because it’s a really nerve-wracking experience.

Your character Isabelle is a talented artist. Tell me more about her.

She is the best of the best in painting. Her background is that she used to paint on walls and get arrested, but then she found a way to channel her talent and make her future brighter by going to school and possibly making a career out of it. I’m a big fan of graffiti art so the character was right up my alley. I really responded to it.

Some people would argue that graffiti is not art.

It’s one of the biggest forms of art. Anything you can do to express yourself is a form of art. That’s why I love my craft so much. I always wanted to play other artists. If I can’t play an instrument, then I want to play a character that can. There is an artist behind everything and I think that’s beautiful.

You’ve done a couple of comedies in your career. What kind of comedy makes you laugh the most?

I like very dry humor. I don’t like things that are over the top. I like subtlety. I like things that are nonchalant. I like characters that are sort of monotone and based in dark comedy.

You just described the exact opposite of Martin Lawrence.

(Laughs) He is very over the top! I remember growing up I would watch him on his TV show “Martin” and he would dress up like Sheneneh and all those characters. That was the humor I was into. Now that I’ve grown up, my taste has changed a lot. But this movie is a learning experience for me. I wanted to experience it to see why this sort of humor doesn’t interest me so much and why some audiences are attracted to it. This was never the type of comedy I would have said I was interested in doing, but there are a lot of people who appreciate it. I definitely wanted to tap into that and learn about it.

We’ve seen you in a few TV shows over the last year like “Breaking Bad” and “Men of a Certain Age.” Is TV something you would like to continue to do or are you more focused on film?

TV kind of worked out naturally for me. I was fortunate to do a show like “Breaking Bad” and then go straight into something like “Friday Night Lights.” It’s not something I focus on, but when they’re great projects I can’t pass them up. If I wanted to do TV full-time, “Breaking Bad” is definitely the type of project I would want to do. But TV is not my favorite thing in the world. I definitely want to focus on film. It’s what I grew up loving. It’s always been about movies, movies, movies, movies, movies. I really want to make great films.