Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins to adapt James Baldwin novel

The Academy-award winning director and writer is taking on If Beale Street Could Talk in a new version of the 1970s love story

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Barry Jenkins
via Instagram (@moonlightmov)

Last year, we celebrated Barry Jenkins’ heartwrenching story of a young Black man coming to terms with his sexuality in a violent world, the Oscar-winning Moonlight. Now, he’s gearing up for his next project, adapting American novelist James Balwin’s 1974 story If Beale Street Could Talk.

Jenkins is best known for film dramas Medicine for Melancholy (2008), My Josephine (2003) and most recently Moonlight. According to the Guardian, Jenkins had his eye on the novel for some time and wrote the screenplay in the summer of 2013, while he was still working on Moonlight.

Set in Harlem, the novel tells the moving story of protagonists Fonny and Tish enduring hardship brought by racism in 1970s America. It holds themes similar to Jenkins’ chronicle of the burgeoning adulthood of a young African-American gay man on a search for his sexual identity. Both underline the prejudices of the late 20th century America, the universal truths of a deeply divided society and the unknowable forces of life. As the couple marry, Tish becomes pregnant, however her husband is falsely accused of rape and jailed. He faces of with a racist society as he attempts to prove his innocence. Baldwin’s story reiterates a groundbreaking message, the power of love and trust and the complexities of family relations. 

In a statement on Monday, Jenkins praised the work: “James Baldwin is a man of and ahead of his time; his interrogations of the American consciousness have remained relevant to this day”. 

He continued: “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.”

The Oscar-nominated director is also set to write and direct a TV adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad. It will be his first time working on an entire TV series, though he directed one episode of Netflix’s Dear White People last year. 

Born in Miami in 1979, Jenkins grew up in the United States during the aftermath of the countercultural movements in a new era of Reagan’s social conservatism. Perhaps, being brought up in this period influenced his focus on powerful screenplays and hard-hitting dramas, but it is no doubt that his talent for writing, directing and producing were the reasons that led his rise to fame.

The film is set to begin production on October this year.

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