Newly minted Oscar winner Barry Jenkins has hardly been resting on his laurels after his “Moonlight” won Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, but the very busy filmmaker has only now announced what will be his first feature film project, and it’s a doozy. Variety reports that Jenkins will direct an adaption of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the first film as part of his deal with Annapurna Pictures and his own shingle, PASTEL.
Baldwin’s novel “follows Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover’s innocence while carrying their first born child. It’s a celebration of love told through the story of a young couple, their families, and their lives.”
The film is a passion project for Jenkins, who has been vocal about his affection for the source material and Baldwin’s work for years. Jenkins wrote a draft during the same period that he penned his “Moonlight,” during a fateful and clearly very productive trip to Europe.
He told Esquire in January, “‘Beale Street’ I wrote in Berlin…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 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.”
He added, “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.”
In an official statement, Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Karefa-Smart, said, “We are delighted to entrust Barry Jenkins with this adaptation. Barry is a sublimely conscious and gifted filmmaker, whose medicine for melancholy impressed us so greatly that we had to work with him.”
Jenkins added, “James Baldwin is a man of and ahead of his time; his interrogations of the American consciousness have remained relevant to this day. 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’ deal with Annapurna was first announced back in May, and at the time, IndieWire reported that “Jenkins is currently writing a script, which is slated to serve as the first project under the deal. Details on that project are being kept under wraps. PASTEL plans to continue their mission to ‘focus their development initiatives on supporting and producing projects from exceptional and emerging filmmakers.'”
Production on the film is expected to start in October.
Jenkins has kept very busy since his “Moonlight” win, directing a key episode of the Netflix series “Dear White People,” becoming best friends with Isabelle Huppert, and signing on to write and direct an Amazon limited series based on Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.”