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Will the Oscar Success of "If Beale Street" Spur More Adaptations of James Baldwin's Work?

by Murtada Elfadl


Black authors have not been adapted the same way as their white peers because financiers don’t put their money behind black authors.
-Barry Jenkins accepting Best Director at the Spirit Awards 


Regina King understood what she was representing at the Oscars. Not just her film, If Beale Street Could Talk, and all the people who worked on it but also the legacy of James Baldwin. She mentioned him on the red carpet on her way to the ceremony. Fittingly, she also started her speech with him...

To be standing here representing one of the greatest artists of our time, James Baldwin.


Baldwin has been a chronicler of what it means to be black in America. He has written eloquently about what it means to be gay in America. His essays have been eye-opening and influential for generations of writers and artists. He was also a passionate film critic.

So it’s unfathomable to me that this is the first American adaptation of any of Baldwin’s many masterful novels. (French director Robert Guédiguian adapted Beale Street as A la Place du Coeur in 1998). I understand that his estate has been protective - understandably - but also there is truth to what Jenkins said at the Spirit Awards.

Personally Baldwin has been hugely influential. I remember reading Giovanni’s Room as a young teenager and being gobsmacked that queer love existed unapologetically even in the 1950s. A friend gave me The Fire Next Time when I made the decision to immigrate to America, to ensure that I knew what I was getting into. Another Country remains possibly my favorite novel of all time, with its dense narrative and multiple vivid characters. It's a story that is perhaps closest to Baldwin’s life as it is set in New York and Paris, the two cities where he lived and wrote. Hopefully the success of this adaptation and the Oscar it brought to Regina King, will help get his other novels to the screen. And not just Baldwin, there are many great black writers who remain woefully underrepresented in American cinema.

Which of Baldwin's novels or plays would you like to see adapted next?
And who would be your choice to direct?

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Reader Comments (16)

Giovanni’s Room is the only correct answer.

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

His estate is the holdup. Hollywood was more than happy to option Terry McMillan's work until she resented the idea that her books were merely source material for Black productions. She wanted her literary output to be respected first as literature.

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I would love to see an adaptation of Another Country (his best book, IMHO), and a film of Go Tell it on the Mountain would be great too.

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I’m sorely lacking in my knowledge of James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room is the only one I’ve read, and I didn’t even realize he also wrote Beale Street. I need to fix this asap!

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJonn

I would love to see Another Country done for television by, say, HBO or Netflix. I don't know that you could really pare that one down to feature-length.

Her Oscar moment would’ve seemed better if it was presented to her by last year’s BSActor recipient, Sam Rockwell. Having to receive an important achievement by a trio of SNL TV personalities is another boneheaded decision by the producers of this once-great ceremony...

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Another Country would be brilliant. Probably best as a miniseries since it's so sprawling.

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParadiseLaust

It would be great to see an adaptation of Giovanni's Room. There were plans to make a film of it back in the 1970s with Robert De Niro playing the lead and Marlon Brando playing Guillaume; there is an interesting article here about it:

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterElena

I love this post! Yes, please, more Baldwin!

ANOTHER COUNTRY has an ensemble cast of characters and as others have already said, is prime material for a limited series. (Wasn't there some talk years ago of Madonna optioning it so that she could play the character of Cass?)

No diss on IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, which I adored, but the book is much grittier than Jenkins's saturated romance. Tish, in the novel, is a much harder edged character than as brought to life by Kiki Layne. I'd love to see other directors interpret this master writer's books.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

"Go Tell It on the Mountain" is Baldwin's next most accessible novel, so that for the following film adaptation. (Limited series might work as well.)

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterWesley

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February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterharshakraju

I really hope black directors give those adaptations the respect Barry Jenkins has given to one of them.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

I'm confused. "Go Tell It on The Mountain" was a film in 1984 starring Paul Winfield, Olivia Cole, and Alfre Woodard. Will someone please tell me why "Beale Street" is being considered his first American adaptation?

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterD

if i recall correctly Barry Jenkins mentioned that he was able to persuade the Baldwin state to get the rights to Beale street thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal, who was working on another project, which makes me wonder which one was. Giovanni's room, maybe?

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commentereduardo

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June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNick jonsh

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