Albert Camus said that to create is to live twice and, in the case of James Baldwin, this is especially evident in 2019. Why, do you ask, has Baldwin’s fiction recently been adapted into an Academy Award nominated film by Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) while his life has inspired the art exhibition God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin curated by Hilton Als at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City (along with accompanying film screenings). The 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House) was a runaway success and it seems that our appetites are barely whetted for more.
Jenkins’ latest feature, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, concludes what can be considered a Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacies. All three of Jenkins’ features assume a position about intimacy, more specifically a position about the shared romantic, albeit often warped, intimacies of Black men.
The first time I saw Kiki Layne perform, I was 17 years old. She was playing Oya in a production of “In The Red and Brown Water,” and I was running props backstage. I remember seeing her in this powerful role and thinking, “Wow. She is going to be famous. She has to be.” When I saw that this year, she was starring in Barry Jenkins’ newest feature film, I knew that “If Beale Street Could Talk” would be a must-see movie. I settled into a plush movie theatre seat last week and was drawn into a delicate, honest, and dynamic romantic drama that James Baldwin would have been proud to witness.