A young woman embraces her pregnancy while she and her family set out to prove her childhood friend and lover innocent of a crime he didn’t commit.
Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are young and in love in 1970s New York. Fonny is falsely framed by a racist police officer for rape, and goes to prison awaiting trial. Sharon (Regina King), Tish’s mother, goes to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim, but the woman is too traumatized to be able to see that Fonny was not the man who did it, especially after the police told her it was him and saw him fleeing the scene. Unable to get enough evidence, Fonny takes a plea deal, and years later, Tish and her young son come and see him at visiting hours at the prison.
In the 1970s, Tish (Kiki Layne) is nineteen years old and madly in love with Fonny (Stephan James), who is a few years older than her. He is kind and warm and loves her deeply.Tish goes to the prison where Fonny is incarcerated to tell him that she’s having a baby. Both of them are thrilled, the circumstances non-withstanding. Tish goes home sees her mother Sharon (Regina King). Sharon asks how Fonny is doing – he’s in jail after being falsely identified in a rape case and is on trial. Tish nervously tell Sharon she is pregnant, and Sharon helps her tell the rest of the family: her father Joseph (Colman Domingo) and her sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). They are a little shocked but supportive, a tight-knit, loving group. After wondering when they should tell Fonny’s family, Sharon decides to invite them over for drinks since it’s a Saturday night and no time like the present.
Throughout the film, we cut back to Tish and Fonny’s life before he went to prison. We seem on an early date, walking the city and getting to know one another. Back in the present, Fonny’s parents, the jokester Frank (Michael Beach) and the cruel, religious Mrs. Hunt (Aunjanue Ellis) arrive with their two daughters. Mrs. Hunt and their daughters think they are too good for Tish and her family. When they tell Fonny’s family, only Frank is positive. Mrs. Hunt curses Tish, and tells her the child is born from sin and is going to shrivel in her womb – and Frank punches her, hard. Everyone scrambles, Joseph takes Frank out, and Mrs. Hunt’s daughters help her up. Sharon and Ernestine properly shame Mrs. Hunt, asking how she could be so cruel, and they kick the women out of their home.
As the flashbacks continue, we see Tish and Fonny sleep together for the first time. In the present, Sharon and Tish go to see Hayward (Finn Wittrock), a lawyer that is going to take Fonny’s defense. Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios), the victim, was a Puerto Rican woman living in New York when she was brutally assaulted. A white police officer, Officer Bell (Ed Skrein), claims he saw Fonny running from the scene of the crime, even though Fonny was with his friend Daniel Carty (Brian Tyree Henry) at the time. He then showed Victoria the lineup, and she identified Fonny. Hayward explains there are two problems: one, Victoria is missing and can’t be questioned. Two, the district attorney’s office has arrested Carty and won’t let Hayward see him. Hayward is going to fight but warns them it will be a tough battle to win.
In flashbacks, Daniel gets out of prison after two years and comes to stay with Fonny and Tish. He is jovial, but his time in prison has shaken him. He clearly is drinking as a way to cope and confesses to Fonny that he pled guilty to stealing a car to get out of a marijuana charge after being pressured by police officers… even though he doesn’t even know how to drive.
Tish gets farther along in her pregnancy, working as a counter girl in a department store to make ends meet. Ernestine tells Tish that Victoria has been located… in Puerto Rico. Tish is devastated, knowing she can’t get there to talk to her. Money is piling up for legal defenses, and Frank commiserates with Joseph, who assures him they’ll get it done. They begin stealing from the docks and re-selling the goods.
In flashbacks, we see when Tish and Fonny got their loft together. They had been turned away from many places simply for being black, but Levy (Dave Franco), the young Jewish man showing them the space, tells them that love is love and he’s his mother’s son. Tish looks around a corner store while Fonny goes to get cigarettes, and while in the store, a young white man starts harassing her. Fonny arrives and throws the man out of the store, but Officer Bell (the man who will later say he saw Fonny running from the crime scene) arrives and threatens Fonny with assault charges. Tish and Fonny explain that he was defending Tish, but Bell refuses to listen and begins to arrest Fonny until the store manager, a white woman, comes forward and tells Bell that what they said was true and to leave them alone. Bell vows to see Fonny again.
Sharon arrives in Puerto Rico, attempting to find Victoria. She first finds Pietro (Pedro Pascal), Victoria’s boyfriend. He at first refuses to help her find Victoria, but she passionately insists that Fonny didn’t rape her and begs to speak with her. He helps her find Victoria, who is visibly traumatized from what happened to her. Sharon tries to speak with her, acknowledging what happened to her was horrible but trying to explain that she has the wrong man. Victoria explains that the police asked her to pick Fonny out and she did and that that’s the end. Sharon explains that she only saw Fonny in the lineup Officer Bell showed her – she presses further, but Victoria begins screaming, hysterical, and is eventually taken away by other women, leaving Sharon alone, devastated.
Tish goes to see Fonny in prison, who looks worse than ever. She has bad news: Victoria has disappeared again, and now the trial might be postponed. Fonny is distraught. Tish has the baby, and Fonny, faced with the prospect of losing the trial, takes a plea for a lesser sentence. Several years later, Tish brings their child, a young boy named after his father, to visiting hours at the prison. The three have a makeshift family dinner with food bought from the vending machines and enjoy having some moments actually together.