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How Emily Rios Channeled Strength Through Trauma in Beale Street

How Emily Rios Channeled Strength Through Trauma in Beale Street

beale street

The queer actress's performance shines in Barry Jenkins' new film.

Barry Jenkins' follow up to Moonlight is a hauntingly beautiful adaptation of James Baldwin's 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk. Set in Harlem during the '70s, it's a portrait of the American dream through the lens of those for whom it's not so easily afforded. Framed with stories of sexual assault and systemic racism, it mirrors issues still prevalent today.

At the edge of this tragic tale is one woman's trauma. After a stranger sexually assaults Victoria (Emily Rios) in her own home, one of the movie's young protagonists, Fonny (Stephan James), is set up to take the fall. With the word of a crooked cop (Ed Skrein) whose vendetta is the only thing keeping Fonny behind bars, Fonny's mother (Regina King) must track down the now missing Victoria to convince her to reconsider her testimony.

Although the film focuses on Fonny's legal battle and struggle with systemic racism, it doesn't shy away from exploring Victoria's trauma. Although it's brief, Rios's powerful performance propels the story while holding a mirror up to today's society and how we treat survivors of sexual assault. She says the #MeToo movement provided a source of inspiration for her performance.

"It was very helpful to know that people were so open to being vulnerable and being seen, so that helped me bring this character to life," Rios tells OUT. "Although Victoria is a victim in this story, she shows so much strength, even in those weak moments, and being able to see other people tell their story was very helpful. With everything that's happening in the #MeToo movement, there were so many different stories to take from that I was able to incorporate into studying and researching this character. So, I decided to approach it with a lot of respect and sensitivity, but also remember that there's so much strength and courage that it takes to say something."

While Victoria takes that stand that so many in the #MeToo movement have taken, her role isn't viewed through the empowering lens typically placed on these survivors, but a more raw and emotional perspective that's just as crucial in this conversation. A lesbian and a Mexican American, Rios finds her responsibility as a minority to be particularly important in giving that dialogue a platform.

"Being a minority and carrying all that with the job that I have, I do think it's a public responsibility to carry that on whether I want to or not," she says. "I also know, growing up, that I didn't see myself represented so much, so it's so important for me to carry that with respect. I want people in my community to be able to see me and understand that representation matters, that we're here, that we're staying, and I'm hoping to see more of us. I do respect where I am and how lucky I am to be able to have this opportunity."

If Beale Street Could Talkpremieres Friday, December 14 in New York and Los Angeles, expanding to more theaters on Christmas. Watch the trailer below:

Related | How a Straight Man Is Telling Well-Rounded Queer Stories in Hollywood

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