Though James Baldwin left Harlem when he was in his teens, the historic black neighborhood was never far from his mind. Harlem showed up throughout Baldwin’s work, from his influential personal essays to his fiction. Now, as Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins gets ready to take his adaptation of Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, to the silver screen this fall, the movie will get the U.S. premiere it deserves: at the legendary Apollo Theater, not far from where Baldwin grew up.
The film will debut on October 9 as part of the New York Film Festival, where Jenkins will join the cast of the film at the landmark theater.
“It’s been an honor working with the estate to bring this piece of James Baldwin’s legacy to the screen.” Jenkins said via a press release. “From the birthplace of Baldwin to the streets and homes within which we made this film, the honor is doubly felt in the NYFF’s generous offer to widen its borders for our US premiere: up on 125th Street, in the community Jimmy forever knew as HOME.”
Baldwin’s story is told through the eyes of Tish, a young black woman fighting to exonerate her lover, Fonny, from a false rape charge before their child is born. In the novel, Harlem is as much a character in the story as the people in it.
The project, which Jenkins also wrote, is Jenkins’ first feature film since directing Moonlight, which won an Oscar for best picture. The movie stars KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, and Colman Domingo, who will be in attendance at the Harlem premiere.
As NYFF Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones, said, the film adaption of If Beale Street Could Talk is “100% Harlem-based—shot in Harlem and based on a novel by a great American writer who was Harlem-born…so how could we possibly present it anywhere but the Apollo?”
Annapurna, the film’s studio, and the Film Society say they will reach out to local high school students and Harlem residents to ensure they’re among the first to see the movie when it comes to theaters.