Can we Trust the Beauty of Barry Jenkins’s “If Beale Street Could Talk”? | The New YorkerBarry Jenkins left us in awe with his lush, nuanced storytelling in 's Moonlight , and now, he's poised to do it again with the drama If Beale Street Could Talk. Due in theaters on Dec. In his latest project, Jenkins adapts James Baldwin's book of the same name , the title of which alludes to W. Handy's " Beale Street Blues. Baldwin grounds his novel in s Harlem, but there's a timelessness to it that resonates with the buildup to the civil rights movements and the current Black Lives Matter movement. And while it respects context, the book also develops its characters' internal lives with a tragic story that'll haunt you.
Books Vs. Movie: If Beale Street Could Talk - Review
How James Baldwin’s Writings About Love Evolved
If ever there was a time for a cinematic James Baldwin adaptation—and thus a resurgence in interest in the author because these things so often go hand in hand , that time is now. The opening paragraph of a short biographical piece on Baldwin from the American Masters series's webpage answers that question:. Although he spent a great deal of his life abroad, James Baldwin always remained a quintessentially American writer. Whether he was working in Paris or Istanbul, he never ceased to reflect on his experience as a black man in white America. In numerous essays, novels, plays and public speeches, the eloquent voice of James Baldwin spoke of the pain and struggle of black Americans and the saving power of brotherhood. Additionally, as Michael Cuby notes in his Vice article on I Am Not Your Negro , a documentary about the author, "it's important to remember that not only was James Baldwin unapologetically black, but he was also unapologetically queer. For every The Fire Next Time , Baldwin's book of "letters" about the racial injustices he experienced growing up in Harlem, he also wrote a Go Tell It on the Mountain , his novel about a young black boy discovering himself, featuring a number of allusions to his developing homosexuality.
They had all died, and Baldwin very nakedly reflects on the circumstances of their deaths - the specific American racism, hatred, and oppression that they were all fighting, and that killed them. And, perhaps most importantly, Baldwin reckons with the cost of the Civil Rights Movement. How tiring and soul-crushing the deaths of so many young, impassioned, thoughtful Black men and women was. And still is; the consequences of those deaths are felt every in every waking moment of America today. Interspersed throughout the essay — as he seamlessly links the details of his own life with the larger, looming problems of systemic oppression in American society — Baldwin gives an account of the arrest and accusation of a friend and former bodyguard, William Tony A. Maynard Jr. Tony was eventually released , as abruptly as he had been arrested, in part because he had support that, unfortunately, many young Black and Brown men and women do not have.
The movie also offers viewers a chance to reflect on the work of an author who is as indispensable today as he was in his own lifetime. In particular, the novel marked a crucial turn in how the author sought to characterize the most abiding theme and moral principle of his work: love. If Beale Street Could Talk received mixed reviews on publication. By contrast, the author had spent the previous decade instead writing and thinking about love as a collective American experience, one whose power came from the fact that it could cut across racial lines. In these civil-rights-era works, Baldwin was keen on interrogating white power and championing love to realize the full promise of America. It offers his most trenchant critique of white supremacy—how it is contingent on black subjugation, and how that asymmetry totally warps the people, institutions, and moral character of the United States.