Barry Jenkins Adapting James Baldwin Novel for Next Movie

By Sameer Rao Jul 11, 2017

"Moonlight‘s" Oscar-winning director and co-writer Barry Jenkins will adapt the work of writer and culture critic James Baldwin for his next feature film. 

Variety broke the news yesterday (July 10) that Jenkins will direct his own screenplay adaptation of "If Beale Street Could Talk." Baldwin’s 1974 novel focuses on Tish and Fonny, a Harlem couple whose marriage plans hit a roadblock when police arrest Fonny on false rape charges. The pregnant Tish and her family rush to find evidence that will exonerate Fonny, and the novel alternates between the perspectives of the two protagonists. 

Jenkins told Esquire in January that he wrote the "If Beale Street Could Talk" screenplay during the same 2013 sessions that birthed "Moonlight":

This was actually the same trip I wrote "Moonlight." "Beale Street," I wrote in Berlin. "Moonlight," I wrote in Belgium. I wrote it without the rights because again, in some ways, it was a reaction to putting so much energy in the commercial company. No matter how much you convince yourself, that kind of work [is] purely about making money. I said, "Well, I’m going to just do exactly what I want to do. I love this book. I love this play. I’m going to write those things, and I’ll fucking figure it out after." Yeah, I mean, here it is three years later. I still don’t have the rights to the book, as I shouldn’t. Mr. Baldwin’s only been adapted once. This would only be the second time. It’s a big deal. It’s a big responsibility. But because of the success of "Moonlight" in the marketplace, the estate has seen the film. And I think in that film they can see my intentions with "Beale Street," so it’s on the horizon. I don’t have the rights, but it’s on the horizon.

Variety added that Jenkins eventually secured the rights from the Baldwin estate. 

"James Baldwin is a man of and ahead of his time; his interrogations of the American consciousness have remained relevant to this day," Jenkins told Variety. "To translate the power of Tish and Fonny’s love to the screen in Baldwin’s image is a dream I’ve long held dear. Working alongside the Baldwin estate, I’m excited to finally make that dream come true."

Jenkins and studio Annapurna Pictures plan to begin production in October of this year. The production team will mirror that of "Moonlight."

The filmmaker is also working on a series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s "The Underground Railroad," which is in development with Amazon.