In his novel “If Beale Street Could Talk,” famed author James Baldwin tells the tale of two lovers, written from the perspective of a teenage girl in Harlem, New York.
Following his Oscar-winning work on “Moonlight,” director Barry Jenkins delivers a romantic big-screen adaptation of Baldwin’s 1974 work.
At an Oct. 27 premiere screening at the National Air and Space Museum in Southwest, hundreds gathered to view the film, which evokes the blues while intertwining passion and sadness.
The film is a bold and elegant celebration of young black love in the face of police corruption. The leads — Canadian actor Stephan James, who plays 22-year-old Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, and newcomer Kiki Layne, who stars as 19-year-old Tish Rivers — received a standing ovation alongside Jenkins after credits rolled in the IMAX Theater.
Layne brings Tish to life, capturing all her pain and hope with unfailing love.
Jenkins differentiates between the narrative, dialogue and action through deliberate angles, extended flashbacks and a variety of close-ups.
“The first two minutes of the film took my breath away, and it made me go ‘wow, young girls need to see their fathers loving on them like that and their man loving on them like this.’ It is really important to see,” said actress Regina King, who gives a dazzling turn as Sharon Rivers, the movie’s matriarch.
King also lauded the work of Baldwin, calling the late novelist and social critic “the Shakespeare of our time.”
In the film, Tish must break the news that she’s expecting Fonny’s baby. Not only are the lovers unwed, Fonny is behind bars for allegedly raping a young Puerto Rican woman from across town whom he claims he has never met.
James’ performance conjured memories of Kalief Browder, a 22-year-old Black man who committed suicide in 2015 after being imprisoned for three years as a teen in New York’s Rikers Island jail on a theft charge for which he was never convicted.
Browder’s case provoked President Obama to end to the practice of placing inmates between the ages of 16 and 21 in solitary confinement in New York City federal prisons.
“There are so many themes that resonate today even though Baldwin wrote the words in 1974,” James said. “It’s important to be a part of retelling a story like this so people don’t forget and we continue to spark conversation.”
The movie will be in select theaters on Nov. 30.