Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk has been as faithful to the novel as it could be. However, Jenkins had to cut several scenes from the film. He talked about his editing process with IndieWire.
“While it was the first time Baldwin has been adapted for an English-language feature film, and there was some pressure to keep as much of it the same as possible, what it ultimately comes down to is: the book is the book, and the movie is the movie,” he said.
Jenkins, a lover of Baldwin’s work, said that realizing he didn’t need to recreate the book word for word gave him a boost of creative confidence.
“I didn’t expect it to go well,” he said. “And so I took the burden of doing it well off my shoulders. And then I felt like I had freedom to make the film I wanted to make.”
This led Jenkins down the path of focusing more on the love story, particularly Tish’s (Kiki Layne) point of view.
“It was one of the first choices I made,” he said. “…I mean, it’s Tish’s voice we’re hearing, but really, ultimately it’s Baldwin’s. And I had it in my head of having this young woman speaking these very potent, considered words.”
On the scenes that got cut, Jenkins described “really lovely conversation about unity between Black and brown” with Tish and Pedrocito (Diego Luna) and the death of Fonny’s (Stephan James) father Frank (Michael Beach). “The omission of Frank committing suicide was a really big one. We don’t say that it didn’t happen, we just don’t say or show that it does,” Jenkins said.
He continued, “The way I approached it mentally is that, in a certain way, Frank commits suicide so that Tish and Fonny’s baby can be born. And also significant for me was that, at that point in the film, I didn’t want to represent the death of another Black father, with Fonny already seeming like he’s going off the deep end, even with his baby about to be born. I especially didn’t want any mention of Frank’s death to affect what I think is the hope that we see in the child actually being born. So I decided to take it out to clear the path for the tableaux that we end the film on.”
Jenkins and If Beale Street Could Talk were nominated by the Academy Awards this week for Best Adapted Screenplay. Regina King has won a Golden Globe for her supporting role in the film.