AFI Movie Club: IF BEALE STEET COULD TALK – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: IF BEALE STEET COULD TALK

Director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Academy Award®-winning MOONLIGHT, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is a lyrical and moving adaptation of author James Baldwin’s 1974 novel – and a masterpiece unto itself, earning an AFI AWARD as one of the 10 outstanding films deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. 

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Reelgood

Watch director Barry Jenkins talk about the film in this exclusive AFI Archive video: 

 

Movie Trivia About IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

DID YOU KNOW? 

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is adapted from a 1974 novel by author, essayist, poet, playwright and activist James Baldwin – whose other imperative works about race in America include “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and “Notes of a Native Son.” An unfinished manuscript by Baldwin – “Remember This House” – was the basis for the 2016 documentary I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Author James Baldwin also published a book of personal reflections on the movies. Examining individual films and the institutions from which they sprung, “The Devil Finds Work” looks at IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, THE EXORCIST and more through the lens of art, race, social justice and personal recollection.  

DID YOU KNOW? 

KiKi Layne made her theatrical feature film debut in IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Her co-star Stephan James worked previously in film and television, perhaps most notably appearing as a young John Lewis in Ava DuVernay’s SELMA (2014). 

DID YOU KNOW? 

KiKi Layne was a struggling actress in Los Angeles and was preparing to move back home to Cincinnati when she had a prophetic tarot reading that convinced her to stay. It was only a few weeks later that she auditioned for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Director Barry Jenkins has said that he wrote IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK at the same time that he was writing MOONLIGHT and was initially encouraged to adapt Baldwin’s novel by an adviser associated with the Cinereach Fellowship – a program supporting emerging and experimenting filmmakers at various points in their careers. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

In an interview with The Atlantic, director Barry Jenkins described the tonal balancing act of adapting such an emotionally charged story of racial injustice: “If it’s all anger, all the time, then to me that’s dehumanizing in a certain way. I think in reading the novel, I could feel the anger. I think we keep some of that anger; I think the angriest bits of the novel, we don’t need to lean in to. But what moved me about the novel was that anger never completely consumed or overwhelmed the love, the community, the family.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

To portray Fonny – a character unjustly accused and imprisoned – Stephan James has said that he modeled his performance on the real-life story of Kalief Browder. In 2010, when he was just 17, Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack – and was subsequently held without trial and without bail on Rikers Island for three years, much of the time in solitary confinement. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Regina King earned an Academy Award® for her role as Sharon – the empathetic mother of Kiki Layne’s Tish and a fierce defender of Stephan James’ Fonny. She told NPR that “I just felt like here was an opportunity to be a part of a piece that displayed Black love in all its different ways — in all the nuances that come along with that. And Sharon just seemed to me to be this woman that — she and her husband Joe created this space that no shame lived there.” 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-Though adapted from a book written nearly 50 years ago, what aspects of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK still resonate today? 

-How do you think IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK predicts the current Black Lives Matter movement in America? 

-Why do you think director Barry Jenkins has his characters look straight into the camera – a practice fairly uncommon in cinema? What effect does this have? 

-In a story so charged with injustice and the anger associated with false accusations and imprisonment, how does director Barry Jenkins balance tone? What saddens or angers you most about Fonny’s predicament in the film? 

-What did you think of the scene in which Daniel Carty – portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry – recounts his experience in prison? Why is that scene so important to Fonny’s own story? 

-When Regina King’s Sharon Rivers goes to Puerto Rico, what is the significance of the scene in which she puts on her wig before confronting Victoria? 

-How would you rate IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK? 

New to AFI Movie Club? Want to learn more?

AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

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