“It’s a very beautiful, lush book that wants to cradle you, but it’s also angry as hell. And as a storyteller I was obsessed with pairing this nurturing and this anger,” says Barry Jenkins about “If Beale Streat Could Talk,” the novel by James Baldwin he has adapted into a new movie of the same name. “Beale Street” screened as an official selection of the 56th New York Film Festival, and on October 8 Jenkins was joined by author Darryl Pinckney for an in-depth discussion about the film and his career. Watch part of that discussion above.
The love story at the heart of the film is between Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James), a young Harlem couple in the 1970s who have known each other all their lives. The anger arises from the criminal justice system when a racist cop railroads Fonny for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Beale Street” is Jenkins’s followup to his Oscar winning “Moonlight,” and for the filmmaker the two movies “kind of got at the same question: what is it like to grow up in a black family in America? And I think both of those families are working towards the same end, but the circumstances are very different.”
In the case of “Moonlight,” the central character of Chiron is trying to find himself while his mother is addicted to crack-cocaine; that mirrors Jenkins’s own upbringing. But the Rivers family in “Beale Street” is more aspirational. “When I look at the Rivers family, I look at Regina King and Colman Domingo, I’m like, yeah it would have been cool to have them be my parents.”
Jenkins doesn’t regret the way he grew up, but “maybe there was a different life” he could have had. “I think ‘Moonlight’ was the life I had,” while reading “Beale Street” blew him away with its depiction of “pure romance” and “filial love.” Though perhaps the life experiences that made the filmmaker’s life so much like Chiron’s is the whole reason he became the director who could create “Moonlight” and “Beale Street.”
See what else Jenkins had to say about the film by following the links below.
On centering a female character for the first time: “The question for me was, ‘What’s terrifying? What’s scary?’ I am not a gay man, and so to step into a gay man’s shoes for ‘Moonlight’ was terrifying. And I’d never written anything from the female perspective, so to tell a story through the female gaze was equally terrifying.”
Has Hollywood gotten better for diverse artists? “There have been a few different advancements that have happened in the last 10 to 15 years that I think have democratized somewhat the process. And I think in that democratization you’re seeing people who were always capable of telling stories, always capable of running a show that has all female directors, always capable of directing a superhero movie that makes a bajillion dollars and means something, always capable of making a film about a queer black boy that wins Best Picture.”
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