October 10, 2017
Moonlight director heads to Harlem to film James Baldwin adaptation
by Chad Felix
Last week, Barry Jenkins, director of the Oscar Award-winning Moonlight, attended a meeting of Community Board 10 in Harlem, where he took to a podium and spoke to the neighborhood’s representatives and residents about his intention to film his next movie, If Beale Street Could Talk, in the upper Manhattan neighborhood.
The film is an adaptation of literary icon and Last Interview Series participant James Baldwin’s novel by the same name, first published in 1974. It tells the story of twenty-two-year-old Fonny and nineteen-year-old Tish, a pair of lovers who take solace from their dysfunctional families in each other. That is, until Tish becomes pregnant and Fonny is imprisoned after being wrongfully accused of rape.
At the meeting, dnainfo’s Gustavo Solis reports, Jenkins explained, “Normally, when you do a film like this you can go to Vancouver or Toronto and find a place that looks like Harlem.” (Italics mine; air quotes, at the time, Jenkins’s.) But Jenkins and the Baldwin estate had no intention of filming Baldwin’s Harlem-set tale any further north than Edgecombe Avenue. Jenkins then introduced Samson Jacobson, the film’s location manager, who told the audience, “We understand that we are guests in your neighborhood.”
Jenkins seems to draw inspiration from powerful, literary source material. Moonlight was famously based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McCraney co-wrote the film and promptly won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Jenkins is also hard at work on a television version of Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad.
If Beale Street Could Talk, which stars Stephan James and KiKi Layne, is due in theaters sometime next year. In a statement delivered after earning hard-won permission from the Baldwin estate to move forward with the project, Jenkins said, “To translate the power of Tish and Fonny’s love to the screen in Baldwin’s image is a dream I’ve long held dear. Working alongside the Baldwin Estate, I’m excited to finally make that dream come true.”
Gotta say it: we’re excited, too.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.