If Beale Street Could Talk is a timely reminder of the power of love, community and people
Writer and director Barry Jenkins and break-out star Kiki Layne talk us through their James Baldwin adaptation
It is depressing just how divided the world still is in 2018. But, as always, there is still hope. In fact the answer to this division can be found in If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel.
Jenkins’ follow-up to the Oscar winning Moonlight revolves around the pursuit of Tish, a young pregnant black woman in 1970s Harlem, who with the help and love of her her family goes up against the police and various injustices in her attempt to prove the innocence of her husband-to-be Fonny, an artist that was arrested for a crime he did not commit.
“I want audiences to take away this idea that there is strength in being connected to people,” explains Kiki Layne, who is achingly brilliant as Trish. “There is this idea that the more stuff you can do on your own the more independent you are, that is what makes you stronger.”
“This film speaks to you loving the people around you and allowing them to love you and being connected through whatever circumstances you might be dealing with.”
It is still “a little unreal” to Layne that she landed the key role in such an integral and timely piece of cinema. Fresh out of school, If Beale Street Could Talk not only marks her debut film but she also had to adjust her acting style as she has a “predominantly theatrical background” and she quickly had to learn “to just let things go” while shooting.
Thankfully, she had an prestigious teacher in the shape of Barry Jenkins, who instantly recognized why Layne was perfect for the role.
“Barry said I had the ability to bring Tish’s innocence and a youthful wonder, but at the same time we can see her become a woman,” recalls Layne.
Fresh off the success of Moonlight, Jenkins is at the peak of his powers with If Beale Street Could Talk, as he majestically and subtly maneuvers his audience through the film, juxtaposing a luscious romance with a devastating and powerful reality.
“With this book in particular Baldwin wrote in two voices,” Jenkins explains. “One is just really sensual and passionate and dealing with romantic relationships.”
“The other is just as passionate, but a societal critique. In particular the role of American society in the lives of black folks. Those things just fuse together so organically in this book that I fell in love with it.”
But while James Baldwin wrote If Beale Street Could Talk in 1974 and Jenkins actually adapted it into a script in 2013, at the same time as he scribed Moonlight, the film still feels bitingly relevant to 2018.
“There is so much going on in the world right now that is either directly or tangentially referenced in the story,” says Jenkins. “I could never have planned for that. The book was written in 1974 and it is a pretty faithful adaptation.”
“The problem is that this book was published in 1974 and so much of it is relevant to today. It just shows that for all the progress that we have made there is still so much further that we have to go.”
If Beale Street Could Talk hits theaters Dec. 14.