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Yes No Maybe So: If Beale Street Could Talk

by Nathaniel R

James Baldwin's "If Beale Street Could Talk" was published in the summer of 1974, forty-four years ago. It feels like we've waited about that many years for any hint of what Barry Jenkins film adaptation might look like since he announced his intention to film it, a year or so ago. The trailer has finally arrived, temporarily satiating our curiousity. Temporarily. It's the type of trailer that relies extensively on moodiness rather than what-the-film-is-actually-like reveal. Let's break it down after the jump with our Yes, No, Maybe So system...



• Very excited about the film's visuals which look rich and colorful and textured. Jenkins stuck with the cinematographer James Laxton who shot Moonlight and it shows.
• As someone who has lived in Harlem for 13 years now, it's a thrill to see it represented onscreen... complete with subway scenes even. Seeing recognizable Harlem streets was even a thrill in the Marvel series Luke Cage and it will likely be even more beautifully designed here (one of our favorite production designers, the bizarrely never Oscar nominated Mark Friedberg is on board, one of the only newbies since most of the Moonlight team transferred to this one.) 
• This movie gives a plum supporting role to the great Regina King and we've been predicting her for a Supporting Actress nomination since April. Come through, Regina! 
• The supporting cast is crazy good in this movie. First of all there's the suddenly hot and very talented Brian Tyree Henry (he's glimpsed briefly smoking) who has in a single year been Emmy nominated (Atlanta) and Tony nominated (Lobby Hero) and has not one but four possibly Oscar-nominatable movies in the fall (Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, White Boy Rick, and the animated feature Spider-Man Into the Spiderverse.) The cast is filled with other familiar talented faces, too, including: Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Finn Wittrock, Ed Skrein, Pedro Pascal, and Teyonah Parris. 
• This looks like a period piece that isn't leaning heavily on period signifiers which might be interesting.
• The artful construction of the trailer is moving, framed around Tish (KiKi Lane) trying to tell her mother (Regina King) something but not finding the words, and staying mostly in silence throughout. However... well, we'll get to that in the 'maybe so' section.  


• I will admit to feeling dread about the forthcoming internet hot takes on this film. So many people like or hate things solely on principle / politics without considering the nuances that come with POV, mode of expression, depiction vs endorsement, and so on. On the one hand everyone (including us) is rooting for Barry Jenkins, since diversity behind the camera is so important and he's a bright light in cinema. On the other hand, the story centers around a false rape accusation, so the movie could have instantaneous trouble given the popularity of #BelieveAllWomen.


• The movie probably lives and dies on its lead performance by newcomer KiKi Layne. We have nothing to go on here given that it's her feature film debut (we haven't seen her Chicago Med guest spot) and she has to carry a whole movie. The trailer's evocative moodiness also favors silence so it only gives us a glimpse of her work. If she's sensational, you can probably ink her into the Best Actress race even though the year is looking competitive. If she's less than that, an awards run is still possible if the film itself is well loved. Regardless, like most new actresses getting their first plum headlining gig, she'll have a few other opportunities to make a big mark (as Hollywood often doubles done on promising newcomers, at least for a year or two). She's already completely her two follow up pictures, the sci-fi film Captive State and another literary classic adaptation in Native Son
• I'm a teensy bit worried about all the center frame closeups, which looks a little too-Moonlighty, given that we're not dealing with three actors mirroring each other this time in the same role.  

I'm a yes, wholeheartedly on love for Barry Jenkins and James Baldwin (though I haven't yet read this particular novel of  his). How about you?

Even if it doesn't live up to Moonlight (that's a very very high bar so we shouldn't expect it to!), it's still the follow up feature of one of Hollywood's most promising and gifted young auteurs with an impressive cast. We should all be following his career closely... and hope that he's afforded many opportunities to experiment, triump, and even fail... like any other major director. 

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Reader Comments (27)

I LOVE the close-ups. I feel like Jenkins is trying to define his visual style with “signatures” (the same way Altman loved a good pan-and-zoom, no matter the milieu). And if it ain’t broke...

I know it’s too early to tell, but I hope Regina rides this all the way to the Oscar stage. She’s got the momentum at this point in her career (scene-stealing roles in The Leftovers and American Crime + 2 consecutive Emmys and another nomination this year).

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEli

I want to hand Regina the Oscar just on those few opening seconds.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I loved this trailer. I hope the film is not hit with think pieces about it's narrative because honestly if it were a story of white people or told my a white man no one would even complain. We need to appreciate talents like Barry Jenkins when they come along.

Also Regina King is queen and I'd happily follow her through an awards season.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

I'd be surprised if this isn't a BP nominee. Regina seems like she could be in a similar position, career-wise, to Allison Janney last year - a beloved character actress known more for tv than film.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

The utter majesty.

August 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Excited to see Barry's new film, and I like the way they cut the trailer, not entirely mainstream. Regina King is a fantastic actress, but she looks a little "earnest" here...that worries me. But of course I'm a full YES on seeing it and trusting everyone delivers.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

Like Moonlight, whoever Barry hired knows how to cut a trailer. So so beautiful. I also support the give Regina an Oscar consensus on this thread.

As for the false rape charge, from the jump it's known that he's innocent and being setup by a racist cop. So it's less about the case and more about the struggles that when you're poor and black the criminal justice system works against you.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

Eoin -- isn't it the opposite though? If this movie survives the plot unscathed wouldn't it be because a person of color that everyone likes / is rooting for is directing it? If a white man told a story about false rape accusations at this point he'd be crucified because people are so (justifiably) angry. Or maybe it's my self-selected progressive twitter stream but everyone seems extremely angry at white men especially when it involves women... and definitely not in the mood for "benefit of doubt" which is required when an artist (any artist) approaches controversial heated subject matter.

to clarify i'm not claiming reverse racism or anything stupid like that. That doesn't exist. I'm just saying there are certain moods that are very prevalent right now and there has ALWAYS been a hierarchy (which changes with society) about which broad groupings of people you're allowed to diss and which you aren't. And right now white men are everyone's favorite target... the current administration is driving this feeling of course as they're the most disgusting racist sexist group of evil white men in power that we've seen in many a year.

Eli -- you might have a point on the signature. I just hope it's not distracting as some signatures can be.

August 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Kiki -- that will help the story be accepted for sure.

But isn't a woman still accusing him (and thus the prison sentence). I need to read the novel still but from descriptions i'd understood that a Puerto Rican woman was accusing him. Anyway, i should shut up until I read the book or see the movie as I always hope other people will also not make assumptions before actually seeing what artists have done with the material.

August 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I love the trailer but it relies SO heavily on Baldwin's voice, which is (I'm guessing) not going to be part of the film. We're not really getting a strong sense of Jenkins's narrative direction, especially since this is a period piece. This is like a short film that stands on its own, but the feature may feel very different.

There's no way I'm missing this one. Opening Weekend, for sure.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

All I can say is.... OH HELL YEAH!

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Simply beautiful. If nothing else, the film will "look" sensational. It's so wonderful to see the attention being spent on lighting Black skin, and different shades of it. I didn't get the impression or worried that this felt like it could be too similar to Moonlight in style, but something more along the lines of seeing a developing auteur who's distinctive style is emerging. I can't wait. And let me throw in a go Regina! Much as I love what Naomi Harris did in Moonlight, I can't help but wonder what Regina King would've done with it.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I really hope the DP wins this time. That LLL win in this category was a travesty, and I am not a LLL hater.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

That's magnificent

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

This looks like more masterful stuff from Barry Jenkins. Moonlight was a stunner in terms of look, narrative style, acting — everything. He has a style all its own (albeit with clear but not derivative Wong Kar Wai influences) and it's both studied and moving. Baldwin is a fave of mine, but I've always thought of his novels as being probably very difficult to adapt because of their meandering narratives and cluttered thematics, except for Giovanni's Room which curiously has never gotten a screen treatment. But I think Jenkins has the chops and style to make Baldwin work. I actually think he could've made an incredible Go Tell It on the Mountain, but oh well.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Based solely on the book, i would predict a nomination for Teyonah Parris, the sister.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMoreno20cm

An Oscar for the greatest character actress of her generation. Go Regina.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Looks great, but I agree with Nathaniel there will be think pieces galore.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Not just yes, but YAAAASSSS!!!!

The #MeToo movement spins on a white (woman) axis so I don't see how this film will factor into those conversations. Beale illuminates how America's justice system is far from just when it comes to Black people, and that's where the think piece crowd will go. Specifically, there are way too many cases of Black men accused/convicted of rape (mainly by/of white women) being exonerated in the news. And with all these viral cases of white women calling the police on Black people for breathing...

So glad to see Colman Domingo and Aunjanue Ellis getting some shine. And Regina? I pray she hears her name called on Oscar night.

Also: Is this the first time Regina and Aunjanue have been reunited since Ray? "You better shut your mouth before you get dusted!" is my fave line from that movie.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

I still have problems with the first and second act of Moonlight (the third act - alone - is the best picture of 2016 by miles [please, know that Arrival, Jackie and La La Land are my favorites movies of that year and masterpieces IMHO]), but, after looking this trailer, I am considering a rewatch of Moonlight till the end of next week. Maybe the problems was things in my mind and Barry Jenkins is oustabding anyway. I praying for changes in my mind 'cause I loved the trailer of If Beale Street Could Talk. This is the power of a trailer: sell the movie and make us rewatch they work once again.

I am total IN to give Mrs. King a well deserved Oscar Nomination. We all know that Amazing Amy (Adams) will be the winner next year for Backseat / Cheney.

August 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJon

yes! [i don't even need to watch the trailer]

August 4, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterpar

This feels boring and ponderous.

I can't imagine any person who isn't a cinephile watching this trailer and feeling like rushing to the theater to see the movie.

As far as marketing (which the trailer should be), this feels like a massive failure. The draws remain Jenkins' name, Moonlight's previous success and Baldwin's pedigree, all of which you can get from a poster.

August 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

I'm not sure the trailer ever went anywhere, but I'm a definite yes. It still looks fantastic.

August 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

@NewMoonSon, and somehow the actuality of women of color (Andrea Constand, Jenny Lumet, Lupita Nyong’o, Salma Hayek, etc.) get marginalized within your very own conveniently-curated narrative.

I pray to God this turns out well. There certainly *are* false rape accusations that destroy the lives/reputations of the wrongly accused (ex. the Duke lacrosse team case), so on its face a nuanced approach could be valuable. (And hopefully accountability for the perpetrators of false accusations is depicted as well.) Fingers crossed!

P.S. It’s frankly bananas that Far From Heaven and The Ice Storm didn’t get Oscar noms for their meticulous production design!

August 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Jonathan Demme called. He wants his signature close-up back.
Just teasing! :-p

Cannot wait to see this film.

August 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdomgogo

Hell yes. That trailer is stunning. Love that it is its own thing. A trailer doesn't just have to be a 2.5 minutes version of the movie, even though so many are.

August 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I'm in love with this trailer. I want to take this trailer to the couch and cuddle it.

August 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

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