Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Director: Barry Jenkins
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Running Time: 119 minutes
Synopsis: Academy Award-winning writer/director Barry Jenkins' first film since the Best Picture Oscarwinning Moonlight is If Beale Street Could Talk, his adaptation of James Baldwin's novel – the first English-language feature film based on the work of the author, to whom the movie is dedicated.
Set in early-1970s Harlem, If Beale Street Could Talk is a timeless and moving love story of both a couple's unbreakable bond and the African-American family's empowering embrace, as told through the eyes of 19-year-old Tish Rivers (screen newcomer KiKi Layne). A daughter and wife-to-be, Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected she and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny (Stephan James). Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
Tish knows that Fonny is innocent, and is mindful that his good friend Daniel Carty (Tony and Emmy Award nominee Brian Tyree Henry) has only recently been freed after an unjust incarceration. While Fonny's mother (Aunjanue Ellis) clings to piety and his father (Michael Beach) grapples with feelings of powerlessness, Tish's earthy father Joseph (Colman Domingo) and fierce older sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) are unwavering in their support.
Even more anxious to clear Fonny's name is Tish's deeply compassionate mother Sharon (Emmy Award winner Regina King), readying to put herself on the line for her daughter and future son-in-law's happiness and for the couple's unborn child, whose arrival will herald new joys and challenges.
Facing the unexpected prospect of parenthood and holding down a job without her partner at her side, Tish must adjust her perspective on the realities of her existence. She visits Fonny regularly, trying to shore up his spirit even as prison takes its toll. As the weeks turn to months, Tish reaffirms their hopes and resilience, relying on familial and inner strength. Through the unique intimacy and power of cinema, If Beale Street Could Talk honours the author's prescient words and imagery, charting the emotional currents navigated in an unforgiving and racially biased world as the filmmaker poetically crosses time frames to show how love and humanity endure.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Release Date: February 14th, 2019
I set off in the summer of 2013 to Europe to write an adaptation of James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk in the hope that one day I would have the privilege and permission from the Baldwin Estate to make it into a feature film. Every decision I made to bring this project into the world had its roots in a fidelity to the source material, a fidelity to Baldwin's vision.
The characters in Baldwin's work are drawn in a very specific way, from Tish to Fonny and on throughout their loves and families – Ernestine, the Hunts and, of course, her parents, Joseph and Sharon. Being the first person entrusted to bring any of Baldwin's novels to the screen in his native tongue, it's been a goal of mine to draw these characters as close to Baldwin's imagining as possible.
Between the two relationships at the core of the film – Tish and Fonny, Sharon and Joseph – there's this lovely rhyme of relationships functioning as the buffer that, for black folks, makes the world worth enduring, that makes the broken promise of the American dream worth striving for.
Transmuting these ideas – thematic, intellectual, emotional ideas – through performers and with the collaborators behind the camera I've long called family, I could think of no better way to honour my favourite author, James Baldwin.
"Love brought you here." My favourite line from Baldwin's magnificent novel. And the spirit with which we all brought ourselves to make If Beale Street Could Talk.
" Barry Jenkins
"Beale Street is a street in New Orleans, where my father, where Louis Armstrong and the jazz were born.
"Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the black neighbourhood of some American city, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York. Beale Street is our legacy. This novel deals with the impossibility and the possibility, the absolute necessity, to give expression to this legacy.
"Beale Street is a loud street. It is left to the reader to discern a meaning in the beating of the drums."
" James Baldwin
Voices From Beale Street
Representing the first English-language feature film adaptation of the work of iconic author James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is a Harlem-set love story that was made on location with the cooperation of Mr. Baldwin's estate and family. It is the first movie from writer/director Barry Jenkins since his Best Picture Academy Award winner Moonlight, and the film is dedicated to Mr. Baldwin.
While Mr. Baldwin's books have been adapted for television and overseas, his vital work and evocative portrayals of African-American life have not been realized by an American filmmaker until now. The movie version of If Beale Street Could Talk accesses the timelessness and urgency – emotional and cultural – of its story.
If Beale Street Could Talk was first published in 1974. In the text following, key If Beale Street Could Talk cast and crew reflect on the source material and on their participation in bringing Mr. Baldwin's words to a 21st-century audience:
Michael Beach (actor portraying Frank Hunt, Fonny's father)
Donni Davy (make-up department head)
Colman Domingo (actor portraying Joseph Rivers, Tish's father)
Caroline Eselin-Schaefer (costume designer)
Mark Friedberg (production designer)
Dede Gardner (producer)
Brian Tyree Henry (actor portraying Fonny's friend, Daniel Carty)
Stephan James (actor portraying Alonzo "Fonny" Hunt, Tish's fiancé)
Barry Jenkins (director, screenwriter, producer)
Regina King (actress portraying Sharon Rivers, Tish's mother)
Jeremy Kleiner (producer)
Diego Luna (actor portraying restaurateur Pedrocito)
KiKi Layne (actress portraying Tish Rivers)
Sara Murphy (producer)
Teyonah Parris (actress portraying Ernestine Rivers, Tish's older sister)
Adele Romanski (producer)
Ed Skrein (actor portraying police Officer Bell)
Kenneth Walker (head hair stylist)
Finn Wittrock (actor portraying lawyer Hayward)
KiKi Layne: If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the lesser-read novels in the James Baldwin library. But, once you read it, you see that it is essential Baldwin. This is a love story layered with social commentary. Like all of Baldwin's work, he is saying something about the black community and essentially using this beautiful love story to comment on the state of race in a specific time and place.
Brian Tyree Henry: I still walk around with a copy of his The Fire Next Time in my backpack. James Baldwin showed that our words matter and our stories matter, and part of that was showing a kinship between men. His writing strikes chords in everyone; he says the truth, and that's coming from the rawness of wanting to understand his place as a black man in America. He will refer to Caucasians as "my countrymen" even though he knows the truth that not everyone considers this so. He lays into the injustices, the dichotomies of life in America and how ever-present that is.
Dede Gardner: He insisted that everyone else be a sophisticated enough thinker to accommodate the idea that you can love your country, and also be the first person to raise your hand to identify all that's wrong with it. He had tremendous faith in the ability of human thought, and he expressed it through a kaleidoscope of emotions.
Barry Jenkins: My formal introduction to James Baldwin's work was Giovanni's Room and The Fire Next Time. These works opened up my worldview of what masculinity was, what black masculinity was. The "aha" moment wasn't necessarily one particular thing he said; it was the way he expressed himself and the depths with which he investigated things he was studying. His legacy is very important and very rich. James Baldwin matters because he told the truth.
Dede Gardner: The Baldwin literature that I have returned to over and over again is his nonfiction. There's an amazing book of essays he wrote, The Price of the Ticket.
Jeremy Kleiner: James Baldwin's commitment to telling the truth, and his assertion of authorship and of being in his own category, continues to inspire people today. Through my high school years, I became pretty obsessed with his work. I loved Giovanni's Room, Another Country, Go Tell It on the Mountain – and I was really taken by his nonfiction writing. I was very moved in particular by his writings in the 1970s; If Beale Street Could Talk is part of that but Baldwin was prophetic in so many ways. He wrote about how America could fulfil its own ideals but he held up the contradictions to light – and warned about what might happen if we cannot address the truth.
Colman Domingo: He has always inspired me, and I stand on his shoulders. James Baldwin is a powerful spirit, not only for African-Americans but for American culture; when it comes to writing about America, he is quintessential. He covers colonisation, class, politics and race; he touched on things that we are always trying to grapple with. When trying to deal with society's ills, there is always a James Baldwin quote to go to.
Adele Romanski: He was one of the most important authors of the last century. He looked at the world around him and questioned it, articulating in a way that others could not so that someone else could empathise.
Barry Jenkins: I think part of Baldwin's power is his reach; a lot of people can empathize with things he is expressing. You might want to say "universally" but I would take it in another direction; he was so potent because he was drawing from many different inspirations. He lived in Harlem, France, Turkey – and his experiences coalesced into a voice that can only be described as his.
Sara Murphy: He was not afraid to be entirely honest about what he was seeing, about the relationships he experienced. He was brave.
Stephan James: It was humbling to be entrusted by Barry Jenkins with this, and I did not take that for granted any day making this movie. I think of James Baldwin like I think of Shakespeare. He writes in vivid and brutally honest language; that honesty is helpful to artists interpreting characters.
Regina King: James Baldwin is a national treasure whose work will always be studied, and celebrated. When you read his writing, you so feel like you're a part of it; he is specific in his details. The Baldwin family was so supportive, giving their blessing and visiting the set. I hope we've done him proud with If Beale Street Could Talk.
The Adaptation: "We Got To Understand"
The screenplay adaptation, as written by director Barry Jenkins, is a faithful one that honours the book.
Barry Jenkins: I first read If Beale Street Could Talk around 2009-10. By that point in my life, I considered myself a Baldwin zealot – but I hadn't read this book. When I did, I saw as I read it there could be a film; the love story between Tish and Fonny was so pure, so rich, so vibrant. It's about different versions of love and, in particular, black love in the neighbourhood of Harlem that Baldwin grew up in. Yet it's also in certain ways a protest novel.
In 2013, I just decided that I needed to go somewhere and write the screenplay adaptation. I wanted to bring it to the screen intact, and translate the feeling that I had reading the novel for the first time. I went to Europe that summer with the little money I could find to write Moonlight, which I did in Brussels, and then If Beale Street Could Talk, which I did in Berlin.
I went into that process remembering that Baldwin is revealing much about himself in this book – and that it's one of the few pieces of literature he wrote from a female perspective. What he was also saying is that there is not just one way to depict a black family.
Sara Murphy: I cried several times reading the script; it was so moving and powerful. We wanted this to be the first film from our collective [production company] PASTEL, even though we hadn't secured the rights yet. But Barry had a passion for this story, and I think that moved the Baldwin family.
Adele Romanski: The estate approval took time, and it would be the first time movie rights were given to an American filmmaker. In between, we made Moonlight.
Barry Jenkins: The promise to ourselves at PASTEL that we were going to make these two films came true. Plan B's Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, who had produced Moonlight with us, were also big fans of James Baldwin. And Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures read the script and understood the vision that we were trying to create. So, both times and twice in a row now I've been fortunate to work with a group of producers who got behind me and had faith.
Jeremy Kleiner: Moonlight is a very political film, but it doesn't have the normal signifiers of what is considered political. I don't think it's an accident that Barry wrote both screenplays at the same time, or that he gravitated to this novel out of all of Baldwin's. He can interpret this story of pure love up against forces lined up to impede them as a movie because as an artist he shares a lot of Baldwin's characteristics.
Adele Romanski: James Baldwin's novel is both timely and timeless. Barry saw how modern and contemporary the story of these two young people could be as a cinematic experience, while preserving the details of the period. There are a lot of Fonnys and Tishes living in this country today.
Barry Jenkins: The book was written between 1968 and 1973, and published in 1974. And yet there are conversations in it, scenarios in it, that are still relevant to what's happening today. That's why the adaptation is set in the early 1970s. We wanted to honour Baldwin in a way that we felt was without compromise.
Dede Gardner: It's a hard book to adapt, but Barry made such careful choices. When I got to the end of the script I thought, everything Baldwin intended is intact: the love story, the larger messaging, what the Beale Street of the title means – as the Baldwin quote at the beginning of the movie says, "Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street."
Regina King: It's amazing how similar his screenplay adaptation and the book are; I'd never seen one so close before. Barry is so smart and kind and strong, and he lived with this story so he could dig deep to make the movie. He was great at deciding which lines or scenes would be taken word-for-word from the book and which ones would not.
Colman Domingo: Barry wanted to put together a team of artists in every department that felt the responsibility to get it right, to get James Baldwin's words to resonate. You go into the soul of why his characters speak the way they speak; for example, [my character of] Joe says, "We got to understand." Not "must understand;" "got" is more definitive. That roots you into who this man is, where he is from.
Sara Murphy: Barry is loyal to James Baldwin's original work: What does it actually look like – in the faces – when you connect with somebody? What are the memories you have, and which do you hold onto?
Jeremy Kleiner: There is a highly tactile nature to Barry's filmmaking. He has a feeling for the most sublime longings – love, family, friendship. One of his signatures is an emotional and confessional exchange between two characters; the intimate becomes epic, as it did in Baldwin's work.
Adele Romanski: He tells this story with lyricism. But Barry does not ignore the miscarriage-of-justice side of the story; he adeptly intertwines that with the love story.
Barry Jenkins: To me, that was the greatest challenge because those things can exist in opposition to one another. It was a blending of two sides of Baldwin; he was writing about the system of oppression in America threatening the sanctity and purity of Tish and Fonny's love, and showing us what it's like for them. So you have the energy we find in The Fire Next Time weaved into a romance.
Jeremy Kleiner: Trying to reconcile the personal and political has always been key to Baldwin, and that figures very strongly in this story. In a moment, we go from seeing Tish and Fonny on a perfect day in Harlem to the innards of a prison. But it was all part of Baldwin's worldview, and one of the things I love about Barry's work is that he doesn't think in terms of labelling things. He tells deeply human stories.
Mark Friedberg: James Baldwin's text was our scripture. Barry's goal was to bring Baldwin's vision to life, and journey with these characters. Barry has more or less retained the book's structure of flashbacks, through Tish's thoughts, and flash-forwards. Baldwin's book still has cultural and social relevance; this story, which is about hope as well as inequities, has a lot to say about the time we live in now. He was often described as an "angry writer" back then, but today he seems very reasonable. His words haven't changed, and they need to be heard now.
Casting And Pre-Production
Actors and artisans alike lined up to be part of an acclaimed filmmaker's take on a groundbreaking author, and found themselves even more invested than expected.
Ed Skrein: James Baldwin spoke for the people. His descriptions and metaphors are so personal and poetic; they are in touch with real emotions and are so insightful. Since I had seen Barry's film Moonlight four times in the cinema, this was a dream project to be part of.
Stephan James: After watching Moonlight, I said to myself, "I'm going to work with Barry Jenkins." I felt it in my spirit.
Kenneth Walker: Barry and I had met at an awards ceremony; he was there for Moonlight and I was there for Loving. He said, "I would like to work with you," and then a few months later we were meeting about this. He and I were in accord right away.
Barry Jenkins: I refer to Kenneth Walker as Doctor Ken. He is the most seasoned member of our crew. At that awards show, I told him how great the Loving hair was. When I told him I was doing a James Baldwin adaptation, he said he was in. His first job was a television show called 227, which Regina King starred on; it was also her first job. So there was this reunion on our movie of two beautiful souls.
Regina King: Barry and I were supposed to meet for a half hour together and it wound up an hour and change.
Dede Gardner: Who doesn't love Regina King? We all feel like we grew up with her.
Barry Jenkins: In the book, Baldwin placed so much weight on the character of Sharon because she is trying to protect Tish and Fonny's love, and the child her daughter is trying to bring the term. She's also trying to salvage whatever connective tissue there is between the two families. Regina can show all that and also show the audience that this woman has to protect herself. Sharon is so strong for those around her and then she has these moments of solitary quietude where you see the vulnerability and the effects of carrying all this weight. As a writer, director, and producer herself, Regina understands every element of filmmaking.
Dede Gardner: When we called Regina to offer her the role of the matriarch, she was genuinely surprised and thrilled. She was in the editing room, cutting an episode of a television series that she had directed – and she walked outside into the parking lot and screamed.
Sara Murphy: Regina King being in this movie is a blessing. She is a force, and brings so much to the character of Sharon that is in Regina.
Adele Romanski: She is definitely playing a character, but there are shared qualities – a lot of similarities. There was never anybody but Regina King to portray Sharon Rivers.
Barry Jenkins: I knew that, like Regina as Sharon, Teyonah Parris could show different layers of Ernestine – the ribbing and also the sister-bear. I wanted a generous performer to play Regina's character's daughter, and Teyonah was that person.
Teyonah Parris: When I met with Barry, we really vibed – talking about the script, about James Baldwin, about life – and I remember leaving thinking "Well, if he doesn't cast me we'll work together on something." But I'm glad it turned out to be this movie since I really wanted to be a part of it.
Colman Domingo: I auditioned to play Frank, but got the call that Barry wanted me for another role – Joe. It is amazing what other people can see in you.
Dede Gardner: Adele, Sarah, Jeremy, myself, and Barry each – without speaking to the other – said, "There's Tish's dad."
Barry Jenkins: I saw in Colman the father I wish I had, and I realized that this is the dad Tish deserves. His reputation as an actor preceded him, and like Regina he is a multihyphenate who understands the process. In terms of building the Rivers family I felt this was the man Sharon would fall in love with and marry and be devoted to.
Sara Murphy: We saw how good-humoured and kind Colman was, and we knew that he could show onscreen a parent you could rely on and who would keep his children fed and clothed and housed and loved.
KiKi Layne: Just after I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, a friend told me about a project he was auditioning for – Barry Jenkins' movie of a James Baldwin novel. When he let me read the character description for Tish, I knew immediately this was a woman very close to me. "But that's me!" I told him. I couldn't shake Tish and knew I needed to try for the role.
Barry Jenkins: When I'm writing a script, I rarely see an actor as the character; I'm hoping that during casting an actor will show me who the character is. Tish is written with such specificity that I felt I would know her when I saw her. With KiKi, there was a combination of strength and vulnerability, of wiseness and naiveté, that I had seen in the character on the page.
Sara Murphy: KiKi came out of nowhere and did this really strong reading. While she is not presumptuous, she is sure of herself in a wonderful way, and she had what's inherent in the character. Since KiKi is an unknown to moviegoers, we get to discover Tish and love her like Fonny does – and the camera loves her too.
Barry Jenkins: I had seen Stephan in Selma and Race, but I didn't initially see him as Fonny. Then I watched his audition tape and thought, "There's something there." He did another and I saw he could be the character.
Dede Gardner: Stephan has a preternatural calm about him. He's quiet, but that doesn't mean he's quiet on the inside.
Jeremy Kleiner: Dede and I had worked with Stephan on Selma, where he blew everybody away as John Lewis. As Fonny, he shows a young man's idealism, bright light, and trying to carve out space for himself. But Fonny also has more of an understanding than Tish of the way the world really is.
Sara Murphy: Stephan came to us invested in the piece and the character, with such determination. Then when we put KiKi with him, the match was amazing.
Barry Jenkins: Because of the love story, chemistry had to be a big factor in the casting. There had to be an authentic depiction of a relationship no matter how young the love is.
Mark Friedberg: I've been lucky enough to work on movies like Selma that participated in the conversation about what's going on in the world; when art can also offer something you're passionate about and that is relevant to today, it's fulfilling work.
People, Place, Time Caroline Eselin-Schaefer: Because If Beale Street Could Talk is set in the early 1970s, I began with photographic research for the boards and fitting photos. Each character got their own "mood board." I showed them to Barry so we could have the conversations of how he saw each person in their story.
Barry Jenkins: I would say that in this film, much more so than in Moonlight, the clothing really helps inform the characters.
Caroline Eselin-Schaefer: This movie had to cover New York City in Harlem, the East Village and the West Village. Photographs from Gordon Parks, Jack Garofalo and Paul Fusco helped to show what the late 1960s and early 1970s would be like, especially in Harlem. Bruce Davidson's shots of The Tombs – the prisons in New York – from 1973-74 were invaluable. For our palette, we looked at shots of Robert F. Kennedy's funeral train… when so many people lined up from New York to Washington.
Donni Davy: This entailed a lot of collaboration for my department with Kenneth's and Caroline's; she'd been on the project longer in pre-production, so she shared with me her "mood boards" and fittings. Seeing what she'd pulled together with wardrobe helped me get at the characters, and so did talking with Kenneth about where he was coming from; who among the characters is more polished, and who is more plain? He is intuitive about that.
Kenneth Walker: My research was not only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archives but also old magazines I had – Ebony and Jet. This is a fairly simple film as far as hairstyles go, though it's a very meaningful story about dignity and love. There will be a few standout looks that bring back memories, but there's nothing real fancy about most of the characters.
Barry Jenkins: Doctor Ken came to my office and plopped down all these magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. He said, "This is your hair. This is what I'm going to do for you." And he did it. I'm so glad I got to work with him.
Dede Gardner: We were privileged to watch Doctor Ken work. He is full of wisdom, and quick to say when people didn't have something right; he is also deeply gentle, a gorgeous human. Kenneth Walker: The wardrobe and make-up departments did incredible jobs; we would all feed off of each other and get on the same page for what Barry wanted. I also wanted to stay true to James Baldwin – who had his own personal look with his hair, just part of his uniqueness and his living life to the fullest…
Mark Friedberg: I had already read the book several times, including when my kids were studying it in school, so I already had a sense of the world this was about – and it is set in a New York City I remember. The neighbourhoods have identities, at least from Tish's perspective, so I wanted to portray them as realms. Back then, when you were going to a different neighbourhood, you were leaving the comfort of where you lived; there were distinctions.
Adele Romanski: Mark and Barry sat down together on Father's Day to talk about doing the movie, so it felt sort of meant to be. Mark is a talented photographer and artist and production designer.
Barry Jenkins: Mark cared right away about our having a film with the wear-and-tear, the love and life of the actual spaces these characters would have lived in.
Mark Friedberg: When I went to meet Barry, I brought him a couple of hundred images: of New York, of Harlem, from African-American photographers working in that time. It's not just historical reality that we're making, we're making art. Barry and I talked about a sense of the world for this story, and I got inspired to work with him as a filmmaker. Those initial images became the basis of my design of If Beale Street Could Talk, and from there it grew out of the characters. I worked to tell the audience about the characters through things in their environments that show their history; what's in their rooms gives you clues of who they are and where they have come from.
Honouring Harlem The production committed to filming in New York City, acknowledging that it was important to tell the Harlem-set love story on location. All concerned took inspiration from being in Harlem, which had itself inspired James Baldwin.
Michael Beach: You can't cheat Harlem on film; you have to be there – particularly for this movie. We shot on St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem. I lived there for many years, on 145th Street.
Brian Tyree Henry: I've lived in Harlem for years.
Colman Domingo: And I lived at 149th and St. Nick years ago. The best thing about filming in Harlem is that people are so real. People come up and start talking to you. Even if they think you're another actor… there was a woman who said, "Well, everybody is somebody." James Baldwin's language explores everything in Harlem; the stoops, the way people walk, the trees, the sounds.
Brian Tyree Henry: There is no place like Harlem, the streets that Baldwin once walked on. It was a dream come true for me to get up, go walk 10 blocks to do a scene with a plethora of black folk – and be in period costumes!
Kenneth Walker: It was nice to see background actors with so much natural hair. But I didn't want perfection because Harlem at this time was people being who they were, so I stayed close to the real deal – the women in the streets with pink rollers in their hair and a scarf tied around their head, the guys walking around with a pick stuck in their hair. Some men took pride in making their Afros neat, some forked it all the way out, and some moved their fingers around to create texture.
In the era we're depicting, wigs were very prevalent; black women took pride in their wigs. All the top stars and entertainers wore them.
Mark Friedberg: A lot of Harlem had changed now, but we wanted to tell the story in the neighbourhood it's written for and in; it was important to Barry we make that work.
Barry Jenkins: We had to film in Harlem, as much as we could, with as many faces as we could. It was about honouring Baldwin's text, and honouring the city.
Regina King: I would watch Barry take in how much had changed on a Harlem street and how he couldn't be too wide with shots – and yet he would find a way with [cinematographer] James Laxton to go just wide enough.
Mark Friedberg: As someone who is from New York and has lived there my whole life, it's important to remember that Harlem was once grand. But by the time of the 1970s, Baldwin's book described outside the Rivers' home Harlem with both its former grandeur and the trash not picked up, destroyed cars, and people on the street. That was other neighbourhoods in New York City in the 1970s too; the city was dysfunctional.
RESEARCHING THE PERIOD The socioeconomic realities of how the characters lived, and what they wore, defines them in the context of Tish and Fonny's story.
Barry Jenkins: I had hundreds of reference photos put up, like wallpaper, in my apartment. I wanted to be immersed in the energy I took from the novel and from Tish and Fonny, and during casting and location scouting our own rhythm for the movie would come together. We didn't do storyboards; where we were heading became clear.
Mark Friedberg: When you make a period movie, you don't want it to feel like a relic because it's contemporary for when it was written and for the people living it. We need to feel in the moment with the characters; if you're looking at it from a vantage point outside of theirs, that is much less dynamic and emotional.
Barry loves these characters. One of the themes in the story is being in your own bubble and then how you react in going outside of it.
Kenneth Walker: There were these different class echelons in Harlem, and there's a little bit of disdain from the Hunt family towards the Rivers family. The Hunt family is very "bougie," going to the beauty shop a lot, while the Rivers family lives within their means.
Barry Jenkins: The physical space had to reflect that the Rivers home is one of love, caring, and affection. Mark was involved in everything there.
Mark Friedberg: What Barry and I wanted to convey with the Rivers was that they were in a formerly nice building that had fallen into disrepair even with Sharon making something good out of the apartment. Their residence – functional yet proud – was the most complicated set and the biggest challenge from a design standpoint; it's probably been their home for two decades and they don't have money to make changes. We needed to convey an economic level without being pejorative.
Caroline Eselin- Schaefer: The Rivers family doesn't have the most up-to-date clothing; they can't afford the latest and greatest. So, like most people, they wear things they've had for a while. Sharon's housedresses were probably once summer dresses. We came up with a lot of options for Tish – but Barry reminded us, "They don't have money, so we've got to choose and then repeat."
Sara Murphy: Mark Friedberg was very smart about building the world we were going to see onscreen, and about building out the Rivers' apartment so that it truly felt like a home. He worked with such confidence.
Barry Jenkins: Mark had found a brownstone in Harlem that was in the process of being renovated so the place was temporarily gutted – and we were able to build it from scratch, with input from every department and the cast. It still had to be up to code…
Mark Friedberg: Money is part of the narrative: "We need money to pay the lawyer." But while there is economic poverty, there are also familial riches. So the story takes place in a world of poverty but is about resilience and hope. Tish firmly believes that things will work out; she has her mother's resilience.
Jeremy Kleiner: When you see Sharon come home after having gone to the grocer and the butcher, there is a bit of nostalgia for the family living in the neighbourhood.
Caroline Eselin-Schaefer: Fonny is now living on his own, so he has found vintage things for his own style, from thrift stores, like his red-and-black jacket. While we tried to stay below the mid-1970s and above 1965, there are pieces in the movie from even the 1940s and 1950s.
Mark Friedberg: The Bank Street basement space that Fonny lives in meant something wholly different in the early 1970s; the West Village was off the grid. The Village back then had a lot of older immigrants rather than hipsters. Fonny is a 22-year-old artist and that's what he can afford. So we made something that looked like it's small, cluttered with his sculptures, and barely domestic. There's nothing homey about it, although as the narrative progresses there is a transformation.
Barry Jenkins: Mark researched what that basement apartment would have been, so there is this dining table that is essentially a bathtub with a wooden slab thrown over it. Looking behind that, Mark thought there should be a crack in the wall because Fonny can't afford any apartment other than one in disrepair. So Mark brought this draftsman out of retirement to build this crack out the way it would naturally have progressed over a century in a Village apartment. No one may notice this in the film, but for Mark it was essential to get that right.
Mark Friedberg: The question of period authenticity – how strict or not strict – informs design decisions and the choices my department makes. Anything that advances the storytelling is positive, and that has everything to do with Barry's direction. We felt that if an anachronism leaked in and it wasn't prominent, then that was okay so long as it didn't distract from the point of the scene or the narrative. We were trying to honour what was written as best we could, understanding and then interpreting it.
Jeremy Kleiner: It was important that the story not be put into a "period piece" time capsule because all this lives, and affects you, in 2018.
The Family United: "Unbow Your Head, Sister"
The actors gravitated towards the core love story and the protective family unit of the empowering Rivers household.
KiKi Layne: What drew me to the part was Tish's sweetness, her innocence – and how it had not been hardened due to Fonny's incarceration. In fact, she was encouraged by her family to have this baby and support her lover in this terrible situation. It could have been looked upon as a weakness, but for Tish it is a strength that becomes a strength for those around her as well. Baldwin writes in the novel about Tish and Fonny's "first date" when they go to church with his mom, and how she knew it would always be him: their love story was fate, destiny. The way she fights for him is natural for her; it comes from their love, it is part of who she is and especially how she moves forward in life pregnant with their baby.
Sara Murphy: Fonny's family situation was often fraught. His love with Tish, which is unstoppable, gives him stability while he pursues his ambitions of being a sculptor. Theirs is a love they grew up into.
Adele Romanski: Fonny is a young black man who doesn't toe the line, and he is an artist at a time when society says that's not what he should be doing. When he is punished for this and incarcerated, Tish has to grow up much more quickly than she had expected she might. Their love is so pure that it creates a heightened feeling around their romance, and you feel it that much more deeply when they can't be together.
Jeremy Kleiner: Seeing these two lovers trying to hold onto belief in the future is heartbreaking but it is also intoxicating.
Stephan James: Tish has been Fonny's best friend for almost his entire life, since they were kids. Growing up together, they were friends before there was an attraction. They formed a bond which was unbreakable and undeniable. Theirs is a real love. He didn't have the best family situation at home, so Fonny spent more time with Tish's family than with his own and he almost sees Sharon Rivers as his mom. Mr. Rivers is someone he looks up to. He wants what they have for him and Tish.
Michael Beach: Frank's relationship with his son Fonny bothers him a great deal; he loves him and is trying to rectify things.
Colman Domingo: [My character] is very much an everyman of the early 1970s, an average blue-collar man trying to take care of his family and make sure his kids have it better than he had it.
Jeremy Kleiner: The scene between Michael and Colman's characters, the two fathers, at the bar is so inspiring because it's about going beyond petty judgment or recriminations; there is just the absolute of love and family.
Regina King: What makes the relationship between Tish and Fonny even more special is the acceptance of Fonny into the Rivers family. I felt like Sharon saw a bit of Joe in Fonny, and saw that it could be nurtured so he can grow into a man like Joe. Her family knows that Fonny is not in the best setting to thrive in; his family doesn't always express love to each other. I think Sharon senses that very early on and can't help but welcome him in.
Colman Domingo: A lot of the narratives we see about black families don't include what I know so well; I grew up with my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, and we sat at a table at 6:00 and we had dinner. You don't usually see that family, but James Baldwin saw them: a functioning family that has faith in one another. There is conflict at times, but at the core is a very loving family and Barry Jenkins' movie continues a meditation on the black family.
Regina King: The Rivers family is one with big hearts and love for each other, and they don't keep things to themselves; I imagined how the doors inside the home were open all the time. Unfortunately, we don't often get to see such a family represented; this is a family that also exists in 2018, where the father and the mother are there with the children.
Sara Murphy: We also don't see enough films about motherhood, which Sharon embodies in this story. She gives support and strength to Tish and extends that to Fonny as well. This is a fully supportive, functional family staying together in a challenging socioeconomic climate.
Adele Romanski: The way that Tish's family received the news of her pregnancy will be perhaps unexpected for some in the audience; the family is joyful, and supportive of her desire to have the baby. You can infer much about the Rivers family from who their daughter is; Tish is our window into them.
KiKi Layne: Tish's relationship with her father Joseph is very tender. You see him comfort her and hold her. Her family tells her she's not "a bad girl" because of being pregnant, and that she's done nothing wrong. People who have been there – 19 years old, unmarried, pregnant – will see the movie and they will see a family respond by not shunning her. Working with Colman as Joseph was very special. The bond we formed as actors helped inform the onscreen connection Tish and her father have; it is a very close father-daughter relationship.
They know that this a child who comes from love; her mom looks at Tish and sees the baby, and will not try to change her daughter who she knows so well or make her be any other way.
Regina King: When Tish becomes pregnant, Sharon realizes that if she allows Tish to feel bad about that it could break her daughter's heart and she knows what stress can do to a mother carrying a child. So her lioness instincts kick into overdrive, and she is protective in making sure Tish knows she is loved and accepted as a mother-to-be.
Teyonah Parris: In If Beale Street Could Talk, a black family supports one another and is not dysfunctional. You're waiting for the other shoe to drop: when are they going to kick Tish out? That never comes; there is no shame, no guilt – just love and support. My character, Ernestine, is the big sister to Tish – and very protective of her. Ernestine is passionate and spicy, and says what's on her mind. You don't have to think twice about what this woman knows and feels. She cracks jokes to lighten the mood. But when her sister hurts, Ernestine hurts.
Adele Romanski: When Ernestine says to Tish "Unbow your head, sister" it is a very powerful moment. Her saying that to her sister distills the Rivers family's point of view.
Dede Gardner: You're watching this family – Joe reaching out and how Sharon treats Tish – and this puts it into words; there is no shame allowed in that home.
Adele Romanski: Sharon is a woman who has instilled a deep love and respect in her children. She finds herself having to fight alongside Tish to save her future.
Regina King: I don't think that Sharon had any education beyond high school; she tried to make her way as a singer but that didn't work out, as it doesn't for so many people. Along the way, she met Joe; he's a man with a good job, and she fell in love. Sharon still did odd jobs to bring a little extra income in.
At one time Sharon had a great sense of humour, but now that lives vicariously through her oldest daughter Ernestine. Because Sharon had Ernestine so young, they're more like sisters than mother/daughter.
Sharon and Joe have coddled Tish in a way, and Tish is a complete 180 degrees from Ernestine. She's strong too, but she's naive, having not been exposed to as much – and I think that was on purpose from her parents feeling a need to protect her.
Sara Murphy: Tish has had less exposure to what else is out there, and she is still learning about the world – as events transpire, her eyes are opened to a lot.
Conversations About Injustice
The characters together face a greater challenge with Fonny's unjust incarceration, a factor of the era and the 21st century as well.
Stephan James: In this decade, Kalief Browder, a young man from New York City, was wrongfully imprisoned at sixteen for three years; there is a documentary on him that goes very in-depth on his prison experience and how he had to be in survival mode. Kalief was probably my biggest inspiration that I was able to tap into for Fonny.
Ed Skrein: This is a very human story about universal emotions and relationships, and about the social dynamics of the time. But it is as relevant as it has ever been, since racism is still prevalent today in America and in Europe too.
My character, Officer Bell, holds despicable views – and sadly they were normal for the time. He's not one bad-seed rogue; there was an inherent bigotry and ignorance.
Adele Romanski: It's impossible to not come away from this story with anger and rage at the injustice that can befall a young couple in love and their families.
Teyonah Parris: The story takes place decades ago, but you could have it taking place right now: authorities' brutality and corruption, and how that affects the black community. Then there is the individual's burden to prove their innocence. That is still happening today, and we have to look at them as not just numbers.
Brian Tyree Henry: To me, [my character of] Daniel represents an everyman in the world we live in today – and the one we've lived in for many years; it's not easy being a black man in this country. I feel that Daniel wants to see and share the good that's within us, but the weight of the world drops on his shoulders. He values friendship and family; when he goes to prison for two years and those are stripped from him, he has to find his way back to the core of who he is.
Barry Jenkins: I love conversations between people that are about one thing on the surface but very quickly we realise it's about something different. This allows actors the space to start with the text; the subtext is buried at first, but there's a slow shift to it being externalised as the text.
There is a 10-12-minute scene between Daniel and Fonny, and Brian was the actor who could best span the spectrum as the guts spill out. It speaks to an experience that I have with the black men I know; whenever you meet up it's "How you doing, man?" and whether you are good or not the default answer is "I'm good." But if you are together in a window of time and if you talk long enough – maybe over a cigarette, maybe over a beer – slowly "I'm good" will reveal itself for what it really is. Over the course of this scene, we take the audience through those feelings, as externalised by Brian, of what is at stake for the characters – and Stephan as Fonny has to not see it coming. The world tells us we shouldn't show to one another, but two men do; to me, this is peak Baldwin.
Dede Gardner: We see such a masculine expression of fear, running counter to everything we are told societally. The scene is a high-wire act, and half of it is Fonny listening – that needed to have its space onscreen, because in real life you don't look away from a conversation like that.
Jeremy Kleiner: I feel that the sequence between Fonny and Daniel has everyone at the top of their game; the writing and directing, the shot compositions, the music and sound, Stephan showing gradual understanding, and what Brian pulls off – the look in his eyes…
Brian Tyree Henry: Daniel is a part of Fonny's past and to Tish it's not so much that he's a threat; it's more the worry of incarceration, which has already happened to Daniel. But Fonny and Daniel's friendship is still solid; they are like brothers, and she realises that.
Stephan James: Fonny lives in a world where he almost feels like an outsider.
The only thing that he's sure of is his love for Tish, which shines so bright. He's a protector and yet he's been unjustly imprisoned. Another way I prepared was to go back and reread Romeo and Juliet. I kept comparing the two couples because of the purity of the love between them and because of how being in love transcends the pain.
Mark Friedberg: Barry didn't want to shoot in a real prison; for the visitation scenes, it's about creating an intimate space with communication through the glass. There's utter connection between Tish and Fonny in those moments, and Barry was going for beauty in the scenes.
Barry Jenkins: There is a void in the prison visits, in that they are devoid of the colours that we see in the scenes of family life.
Donni Davy: Fonny has to transform from a bright, youthful look to – in prison – a more weathered and saddened version of himself. We have to see the progression when Tish visits him. I tried for a realistic approach on Stephan James similar to what I did with Naomie Harris in Moonlight, accentuating shadows that already exist; I added darker eye circles and chapped lips with cuts that closed up, and – at one point – a contact lens which I designed after being inspired by one line in the script.
Michael Beach: To help our kids and get Fonny out of jail, our characters do some… slightly underhanded things.
Kenneth Walker: It's for the love of their families, and Frank and Joe are friendly, and they have to do something a little shady together.
Colman Domingo: It's, taking from Peter to pay Paul. Got to roll quick.
Teyonah Parris: When Ernestine finds out that someone has a friend who knows a lawyer named Hayward, it's, "We need him! All hands on deck!"
Mark Friedberg: The lawyer's world is how the other half lives at that time. Putting members of the Rivers family into it, you see how it's lacking in soul and feeling. His own backstory, I think, is that he sees himself as the star of his own drama but he's more of a supporting player – and he realises how affected he is by this story of inequity.
Jeremy Kleiner: He sees, as we do, the purity of how this family expresses what it means to love and be committed to each other.
Finn Wittrock: My character, Hayward, works at a law firm that's not used to taking on cases like this one. But something about it speaks to his morality. He realizes how corrupt the system is, seeing a racial paradigm to the country that he hadn't been aware of before – and he is invigorated to fight harder for this family.
We seem him connecting with Tish and Sharon, and he's affected at how they're including him in this family matter; he sees how serious the situation is for them and realises that these are high stakes.
Donni Davy: Nails are maybe a last-minute thing yet Fonny's sisters have long-nailed manicures, which shows that they are putting money towards their appearance rather than towards their brother in jail; the background is, that's what they're doing on a Saturday while the Rivers family is meeting with Hayward to help get Fonny out of prison.
MAKING THE MOVIE Production began in New York City in October 2017. Together on location as a troupe, everyone worked to honour the story both internally and externally.
Barry Jenkins: So many people work on a movie. Everyone makes what seems like small choices, but all those small choices add up to a whole for a singular feeling. The pieces fuse together. On If Beale Street Could Talk, everybody had Baldwin as their bedrock, with the same shared love for the source material.
Kenneth Walker: Tish and Fonny are everyday people going through a very trying time. I created a design for KiKi Layne; her regular look as Tish is wild and beautiful hair, but when she is working the perfume counter as a saleswoman, she has a more sophisticated look – though she is still with her natural hair. For that, I used no pressing and no curling on her; I just brush and brush and brush, creating a hairstyle of the time. It's a French twist with a part in the middle that's indicative of who she really is because she is never without that. My inspirations for this look for Tish were Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's – the epitome of a beautiful woman – and Diahann Carroll, an incredibly gorgeous lady who was impeccably coiffed. She is who Tish is emulating.
Donni Davy: When Barry first talked to me about the character of Tish, he used words like warm, innocent and loving. He also didn't want her to wear any make-up except when she was on the job at the department store. For that, my thinking was that Tish would take lipstick out of her mom's vanity table; she figures that she needs to look the part. Also, a little bit of eyeliner. Then Kenneth put KiKi Layne's hair into an updo like Tish would have, so she was just enough of a different person for the workplace.
Caroline Eselin-Schaefer: Working at the department store, she is – as is said in the book – the only African-American they've hired, so to go to work she wears special dresses that she rotates. With Tish, there is an optimism to her that is reflected in the clothes; they're very much of the 1960s, pale yellows and pale blues.
I had dissected and highlighted – with different colour highlighter pens – every part of the book that mentioned clothing. James Baldwin is so descriptive, and we tried to honour that as much as we could when it worked for the film; on paper might be one thing and onscreen another. Could it come together with [cinematographer] James Laxton's lighting, with [Mark Friedberg's] production design?
Sara Murphy: Caroline is a genius, heightening the wardrobe to tap into the characters' emotions, and she coordinated efforts so well. James and Barry go way back. Having a director and cinematographer share a common language makes it easier for a producer. They were building the look of this film for a long time, with the rich colours – very inviting.
Adele Romanski: Each of James and Barry's films together is incredibly beautiful and specific. When you walk into Barry's office during pre-production, you will see wall-to-wall photographs, reference images and inspirations that he and James have pulled together.
Dede Gardner: That office was covered in images; there was a collage for the ages. This was a bigger canvas for Barry and James than their earlier movies.
Barry Jenkins: We looked at the work of still photographer Roy DeCarava. The idea for James and I was to reflect Baldwin's language and the energy of Harlem in the visual storytelling and imagery. With some of the plot elements, you might start thinking about a grey palette and handheld shaky imagery; we didn't want to go in that direction simply because it was expected. Instead, we took our cues from the eloquence and emotion of Baldwin's writing – and from the hope of Tish and Fonny's love.
Sara Murphy: The sound design was also a long, worthwhile journey. [Supervising sound editor] Onnalee Blank did incredible work. There is a lot of dialogue and conversations in interiors, so it became about being fluid: letting the outside in and then how the internal affected the characters outdoors. Some of their private moments play out in the world.
Barry Jenkins: Sound has always been important to me. At film school, one of my professors was Richard Portman; he was famous for developing the multi-track technique with Robert Altman, and one of the first things he said to us was that a movie is 50 percent image and 50 percent sound – not 95 percent image and 5 percent sound, as people focus on.
Dede Gardner: Barry gives sound design its due. He tries to layer it as connective tissue into a movie without your being conscious of it, but you process it in your brain and your heart. He believes in the complexity of the viewer's experience.
Barry Jenkins: I always try to take advantage of surrounding a moviegoer with sound in the theatre. For If Beale Street Could Talk, Onnalee and [sound re-recording mixer] Mathew Waters take us back in time to the 1970s with the sound. The dialogue comes from the front of the room, but we created what we called "the voice of God;" Tish's voiceovers – and she is, in this story, the voice of Baldwin – are in her head but surrounding the audience. Since the emotions are massive, we approached the sound that way. So things feel more intimate, but they don't have to feel small.
Adele Romanski: Onnalee and her team elevate the soundscapes of the film to something immersive, and almost musical in themselves. They complement the score.
Sara Murphy: Nicholas Britell's music score is unabashedly romantic; it leans into the love story and also incorporates jazz and horns to honour the period.
Barry Jenkins: In the book, a lot of music is written onto the page; Baldwin was a big fan of blues and jazz. Early on, we thought about taking the music as written onto the screen. But, in the same way that the actors had to show who the characters are, Nick's score would manifest itself.
In the story, there is the duality of the joyful romance and the system of oppression. Some of the musical accompaniment, the melodies, get taken from one area into the other. It's the same elements but repurposed for a different feeling; for instance, from joy to corrosiveness. Nick and I have an organic way of working together, and his process is an open one. There are different stages of love in the black community in this story – they respond and react, adjust and evolve – and I wanted Nick's score to reflect that.
Adele Romanski: There is one cue Nick wrote for If Beale Street Could Talk that makes me tear up whether I hear it with picture or without picture, in a trailer or in the finished film. As we found on Moonlight, Nick goes into his musical lab and comes back with something that blows us away.
Dede Gardner: He has this studio, sort of behind a secret door, and it's "I'll see you in a week," when something beautiful comes out to be played. Nick knows music profoundly, across many genres of it. We introduced Nick to Barry on Moonlight, and he became another member of a creative family.
Donni Davy: Having worked with Barry on Moonlight, I had an idea of how he prefers realism and a natural look for the characters. But this movie is set in the early 1970s, and some of the people are wearing make-up of the time so I had to figure out how to keep that authenticity.
I loved looking at street photographers' work: people in the early 1970s were still using elements from the late 1960s. Barry asked me to check out the movie Uptight, from 1968, which gave me inspiration – there was a lot of diverse facial hair back then, it was almost anything goes. So we encouraged all the actors to grow it out, and then I could shape it into what worked for the character. Some of it ended up looking modern, for today. I still tried to make things subtle, pulling back a bit from big triangle sideburns and bushy moustaches by making them imperfect.
Barry Jenkins: The Hunts' clothes are more ornate than the Rivers family's, because Fonny's dad Frank is a tailor, and their hair is more permed. Baldwin had described them in detail, and we frame them in wide shot when they walk through the front door of the Rivers home to contrast them right away with the Rivers family.
Kenneth Walker: Barry wanted the character of Frank to have hair, so I layered out sections on and around the ears and then up top. I was very pleased with the way it looked on Michael Beach – people thought he'd grown his own hair for the role!
Deeper Into Character
Kenneth Walker: After I finish with actors, we look in the mirror and I always say, "Okay, now you do you." I want them to feel ready and be happy, so they might change something. Then once they feel it's done they're comfortable.
Donni Davy: The Rivers family, specifically the women, exudes a powerful confidence that does not rely on make-up. Theirs was definitely the natural look. For Regina King as Sharon, I took her natural thin arched eyebrow shape and elongated it a little, like something carried over from the 1960s.
Barry Jenkins: A big part of the film spins on a moment alone for Sharon. I can't imagine what it must have been like for Regina to bare her own soul like that, but because it's her I had no doubt we would see every layer of Sharon – and how she is carrying Tish and Fonny's journey with her.
Kenneth Walker: Regina's character keeps her own hair, but then something comes up and she steps out in a wig… KiKi is a talented up-and-coming young actress who was so open to listening; we were on the phone while I was still in Los Angeles before filming; I told her we would find her Tish, and if she had something specific in mind then she should speak up because characters on film live.
Caroline Eselin-Schaefer: One of my favorite scenes is with Tish and Fonny together, where something happened that we didn't consciously plan but which worked out beautifully colour-wise; she is in a blue dress and a brown coat while he is in a blue coat and a brown shirt. So they're in the same palette, which was a happy accident. He has a more artistic silhouette, and his personal style is meant to seem effortless.
You can feel the chemistry, the connection of their love. There's a girlishness to Tish and a strength to Fonny, but he is also a romantic, and that attracts her.
Adele Romanski: Stephan and KiKi have incredible onscreen chemistry. That was apparent while we were making the film but in the editing process and now the finished picture, seeing the two of them together is electrifying. You root for them!
Stephan James: I was able to create a lot with KiKi Layne. What went into the performances was that this is a lot deeper than love for these two characters. KiKi is remarkable; this was her first feature film lead and I was in awe of her. A lot of the story is being told from Tish's perspective, and KiKi was able to lead; that was evident from the first days of filming. We had a natural chemistry.
Finn Wittrock: KiKi Layne was very present; emotionally, she can turn on a dime.
Adele Romanski: At the beginning of the story, Tish is a bit naive; KiKi was able to bring her own raw talent and lack of experience to being really honest about who Tish is. But KiKi's talent is also immense enough that she could step into the lead role in a film for the first time. All of this gave her the advantage over a more seasoned young actresses.
KiKi Layne: Each day when I arrived on-set, I tried not to think too much about this being my first major role in a movie. I had to take it day by day, scene by scene, really almost moment by moment. Barry suggested that I not think of how many days I'd be working, just, "This is what we're working on today." Barry and Stephan were so helpful and patient in teaching me and giving me room to learn. I felt they had a genuine desire to see me shine and grow. Barry would always say, "We're going to keep it real chill," and he does that. The entire cast was so supportive of my newness, they embraced how raw I was as I worked and created Tish. It was truly inspiring to watch the other actors work and to get to play with them.
Donni Davy: Barry is extremely trusting when he's collaborating with you, and he gives you open space to play around in. He'll tell you, "Go for it."
Sara Murphy: He gets together a team of people that he can trust, and empowers them.
Regina King: Barry is also very good at making adjustments for time and money! [laughs]
Diego Luna: He creates an atmosphere on the set which allows people to feel comfortable, yet it also feels like everyone knows what they have to do for the story and like he is getting exactly what he wants. But he's doing it with sweetness and confidence, and his energy spreads around.
Tish sees right away that my character, Pedrocito, represents more familial warmth for Fonny. Pedrocito is happy to see Fonny with Tish, someone so pure – she's immediately like family to him. Making the movie, I was received by everyone like I was Pedrocito.
Dede Gardner: Pedrocito recognises that he offers a safe harbor for Fonny, and he takes pride in that.
Diego Luna: I got to improvise in Spanish, with Stephan James; I have to admit that his "r"s were quite good!
Regina King: Everyone got the feeling right: when Tish and Fonny go into Pedrocito's restaurant, you can practically smell the food.
Finn Wittrock: Barry is inclusive of everyone on the set; there's such enthusiasm but also a calmness. That's the trickle-down effect; a director sets the mood. For actors, he pushes you to find more in the scene then you thought was there.
Stephan James: He was able to break down the characters for the actors. Barry will throw something at you that you wouldn't expect; I learned to stay ready because anything can happen – like my first day on the set, when I had to play a scene that wasn't in the script at all. I realised that, based on the films he's done, if you're invested with him and ready and willing to take the journey then something special will result.
Being and living in the moment creates authenticity onscreen.
Dede Gardner: Making movies, Barry brings people along with him through communication.
It's like he's in the middle of a ballet, moving with ferocity yet also equanimity and patience.
Colman Domingo: Barry is a straight shooter who knows what he wants out of a scene, yet there is room for laughter and discussion so you can do your best work.
In the scene where Joe finds out that his younger daughter is pregnant, how would this man of the family react? That was really exciting for me to play. The way Barry had the scene go, there were so many little nuances.
Regina King: There's a fantastic scene with the six women from the two families. They all six feel like their backs are up against the wall.
KiKi Layne: There's friction when the Hunts visit the Rivers family, but there's also a wanting to give and receive love.
Barry Jenkins: All praise to James Baldwin; the dynamic between the two families jumped out at me when I read the novel for the first time. It was a scene I had not seen before in a film. There is a tension between the Hunt parents that isn't exhibited with Tish's mother and father. I do think that both the Rivers and Hunts want what is best for the family; they just go about it in different ways.
Kenneth Walker: Mrs. Hunt [portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis] is high up in the local church but, by the way she reacts to the families' shared situation, not very saved or sanctified…
Barry Jenkins: As Fonny's mom, Aunjanue Ellis gives an amazing performance. Doctor Ken had it ready so that when you first see her, she turns her head and the hair doesn't move. So you know who this person is and that she is not sharing.
Jeremy Kleiner: Aunjanue is so commanding, but she makes you see this woman's insecurity that goes with her would-be superiority.
Dede Gardner: Mrs. Hunt may seem unlikable, yet you understand how shame courses through her; it expresses itself.
Teyonah Parris: I loved having all those personalities together; that's hard to do technically, getting the coverage, because it's so many people. But energy-wise, getting the essence of everyone playing off one another, it's so much fun.
Barry Jenkins: On the set, Teyonah and Regina and Colman all kind of huddled around KiKi in a cocoon because it was her first lead role and because Tish is the baby of the Rivers family and her baby will be at the centre of love.
I'd never approached casting this way, building a family. It's one of the things I'm happiest with about the film, putting together the ensemble with our casting director Cindy Tolan.
Sara Murphy: These actors brought so much warmth into a room that it is all over the screen.
Trust Love: The Story Told Today In bringing If Beale Street Could Talk to audiences in 2018, cast and crew hope that the characters and the story resonate anew.
KiKi Layne: This is a story told from a young woman's perspective. Growing up, women are taught that being emotional is not being strong. But I hope that other young women will relate to Tish and look at her qualities as strengths.
Regina King: I feel that my character represents so many black women. She reminds me of my aunts, my mother, my grandmother. Mark Friedberg: If Beale Street Could Talk is not a story about poverty; it's about hope, enduring affection and love, and survival. What I hope people take away from the movie is the humanity, including how you must take on the hard times and try to win.
Dede Gardner: Barry Jenkins is a humanist above all else. Through his art, he leans into the complexity of life in a way similar to James Baldwin, resisting compartmentalization.
Adele Romanski: At the heart of all of Barry's storytelling is that he loves love, and has a way of speaking right to you.
Sara Murphy: This is a love story, a story about family, about black life in America. Then you look at the layers and it is speaking to all of us, about the neighbourhoods we live in and the communities we foster and the alternative families that we incorporate ourselves into. Surround yourself with love, because it has the ability to transcend all.
Brian Tyree Henry: I'm grateful to be part of an amazing company that's about to turn a generation on to James Baldwin. He is timeless – and should really be read in print so the pages can get dog-eared and people can see and feel what he's saying. There's still work to do, and the only way you can make change happen is to be informed. Jeremy Kleiner: Throughout the production a
nd the post -production process on this movie, we kept coming back to the book and continued to discover new layers " and what it means to live on Beale Street, psychologically and emotionally.
Barry Jenkins: James Baldwin was a man both within and outside his time. I believe he was writing to the human condition, and as long as there are human beings on Planet Earth the things he's wrestling with are always going to be relevant.
Stephan James: Whether you're 16, 45, or 95 – anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this story and see the power of true love.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Release Date: February 14th, 2019