If Beale Street Could Talk: From the novel to the screen

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK -- Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures. -- Acquired via EPK. TV
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK -- Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures. -- Acquired via EPK. TV /

Strong off the heels of his Best Picture winner Moonlight, Barry Jenkins makes the leap to a James Baldwin adaptation with his newest drama, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Moonlight is a fantastic and poignant drama that anybody can watch, which makes me happy to see the writer-director, Barry Jenkins, tackle the work of James Baldwin next. This time it’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

It’s rather unfortunate how a small incident and mistake could take precedence over the importance of a monumental moment in film history. One slip-up over the true Best Picture winner of 2016 and suddenly Moonlight‘s historic win as the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture is seen as a meme, thanks to the name slip-up with La La Land. It’s a shame, as it has overshadowed what easily the most emotional film of 2016: a raw, uncompromising portrait of a boy discovering himself in Florida at three stages of his life.

James Baldwin is often regarded as one of the greatest writers of our time, having written essential writings on the black experience. For the college-aged readers out there, you more than likely have read his short story, Sonny’s Blues, a story about two brothers and their relationship with one another as the youngest, Sonny, recovers from drug addiction.

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It has become an essential read for college English classes and for good reason. It is a short, but potent taste of what Baldwin is all about. His 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, is another strong example of Baldwin’s writings on the black experience, focusing on a young couple, Fonny and Tish, as they fall in love in Harlem, New York.

The story has been noted for its realistic setting and story, yet boosted by an ultimately positive mood, providing optimism in even the darkest situations. In many ways, it is comparable to the story of Moonlight, an equally emotional experience that provides hope for the audience despite its many roadblocks set up in the process. This makes Barry Jenkins out to be the closest thing to a perfect candidate for adapting this story onto the big screen, which is what Jenkins has done and showed off at various film festivals.

If Beale Street Could Talk has won the hearts of critics and audiences at the multiple film festivals it has been shown at, particularly at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, where it was the runner-up for the coveted People’s Choice Award (where it ironically gave the torch to Green Book, starring Moonlight‘s Mahershala Ali). If Beale Street Could Talk has gained enough admiration to be considered a major frontrunner for the Oscars next year and if the trailer is indicative over what is to come, it could be a drama that will make the world remember why it loved James Baldwin so much.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK — Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures. — Acquired via EPK. TV
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK — Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures. — Acquired via EPK. TV /

The trailer, which was officially released today, puts If Beale Street Could Talk at a very advantageous position. Not only does it look incredibly emotional, but the visual style is a sight to behold, gorgeously laying out the setting of Harlem in an honest but beautiful way that was not unlike what Jenkins did with Moonlight.

The colors weave through each other seamlessly, creating something that one could see in a still portrait of Harlem. Rather than depict the setting with a bleak and devastating color palette, we are witnessing the work of visual artists with the utmost respect for Harlem and the rest of New York.

If Beale Street Could Talk doesn’t just have gorgeous cinematography to back itself up, as the story is set to contain the lovable characters from Baldwin’s original novel, all in their true glory. Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are portrayed in their young and caring portraits from the novel, instantly giving the audience two strong and compelling protagonists to follow throughout the journey. KiKi Layne, in particular, has received buzz about a possible Oscar nomination and if we are to go by what he does in the trailer, I’d say it’s looking good for the new actress.

In fact, it’s looking good in general for the entirety of If Beale Street Could Talk. This story has everything it needs to succeed and I personally hope we get to see this film thrive as it releases this Oscar season. In covering a James Baldwin novel, Barry Jenkins is not only guaranteeing critical love but it is clear that Jenkins has a true love and admiration for the story, willingly taking on a massive project from one of the most beloved writers in American history. If anyone can do it, it’s Barry Jenkins and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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If Beale Street Could Talk is set to release in America on Nov. 30.