Barry Jenkins and the actors he directed in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” his adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, carried the late writer’s message of Black love and resistance into the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday (September 9).
“Black love is…beautiful!” supporting actor Brian Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”) told the Los Angeles Times, after seeing the finished film for the first time. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like that. Barry Jenkins, you have no idea how badly we need this.”
The Oscar-winning Jenkins (“Moonlight”) noted that his favorite scene stars Henry’s character, Daniel, and Fonny (Stephan James, “Race”), one of the movie’s protagonists. The men talk about Daniel’s recent incarceration, which leads to a bigger discussion of the ways the criminal justice system limits Black people’s self-determination. The scene reflects concerns within both the story (which largely focuses on the attempt to exonerate Fonny after he is arrested for a rape he didn’t commit) and Baldwin’s canon.
“I’d make the movie for that scene alone,” Jenkins told the Times. “We gotta tell these damn stories.”
Co-star Regina King (“Seven Seconds”) added that Baldwin’s writing remains relevant to the present, which added a sense of urgency to the project. “Everyone was very much aware that we needed to tell the story to our fullest potential,” she said. “His essays are timeless both in terms of artistry and, unfortunately, subject matter.”
Watch the Times’ accompanying video interview with Jenkins and lead actors James and KiKi Layne (“Chicago Med”):