It was only two years ago that we fell in love with MOONLIGHT from director Barry Jenkins. The powerful film explored a young man coming to terms with his identity during three important stages of his life. Jenkins not only gave us one of the most beautiful movies of the year; he also wound up delivering one of the most memorable Oscar moments of all time. The moment in which LA LA LAND was announced as Best Picture, before participants realized that MOONLIGHT was the real winner, will be tough to beat as the oddest event in Oscar history.
Now Jenkins is back with another must-see drama that has already earned a ton of buzz before even hitting theaters. Here’s everything you need to know about IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK — and why the new film from Jenkins will be among the highlights of the fall season.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is a romantic drama, set in the 1970s, in Harlem. It focuses on Clementine “Tish” Rivers, whose husband Alonzo Hunt — Fonny to friends and family — is wrongly convicted of a horrible crime. Not long after Fonny is sent to prison, Tish discovers that she is pregnant, which makes the situation all the more heartbreaking. With her due date quickly approaching, Tish hires a lawyer and summons all of her strength to clear her husband’s name and help set him free before she gives birth to their child.
Like MOONLIGHT, the new movie from Jenkins features a fantastic cast with several familiar faces from film and television. That said, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is led by newcomer KiKi Layne as Tish. Opposite her is Stephan James as Fonny; you might remember from the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic SELMA.
The supporting cast includes the amazing Regina King, from THE LEFTOVERS and JERRY MAGUIRE; Teyonah Parris from DEAR WHITE PEOPLE; and ATLANTA breakout Brian Tyree Henry. There’s also DEADPOOL’s Ed Skrein; Finn Wittrock from AMERICAN HORROR STORY; GAME OF THRONES fave Pedro Pascal — and Dave Franco. Needless to say, Jenkins’ latest definitely isn’t lacking in star power.
The film is based on a James Baldwin novel published in 1974. Baldwin, an acclaimed American novelist and outspoken social critic and activist, was one of the most vital voices in black activism for more than two decades. He was also the subject of a fascinating documentary released in 2016 (the same year as MOONLIGHT) called I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO.
That film told the story of racism in the United States and explored the writer’s life, using Baldwin’s own words, based on an unfinished book manuscript he had written. Since Baldwin died in 1987, the documentary was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. While Jackson never appears on screen, the veteran actor still delivers one of the best performances of his whole career – and it’s all done through voice-over!
Jenkins is a self-proclaimed fan of James Baldwin. He wrote his version of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK back in the summer of 2013. (That’s the same time that he wrote MOONLIGHT.) Jenkins’ version of Baldwin’s tale is a faithful adaptation. Though it is set in the 1970s, the movie’s story remains powerful. It is acutely relevant to headlines we read every day. The story of a young black woman fighting injustice, and a young black man wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is not only one of the most anticipated films of the fall. It’s an important movie that’s sure to be talked about for months to come. It could end up earning more awards nominations (and maybe even another Oscar) for Jenkins, who has quickly become one of our best modern filmmakers.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK opens on November 30.