Film Forward

Barry Jenkins Is Adapting James Baldwin's 'If Beale Street Could Talk' For The Big Screen, And We Couldn’t Wait To Dream Cast It

From "Moonlight" to "Everybody Hates Chris" alums to other young superstars.

For those who loved Moonlight and were happy to see the film ultimately snag the Best Picture trophy at the Oscars earlier this year, we have good news for you: Barry Jenkins just announced what he'll be directing next for the big screen. That project will be an adaptation of James Baldwin's 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk.


"James Baldwin is a man of and ahead of his time; his interrogations of the American consciousness have remained relevant to this day," the filmmaker said in a statement to Variety. "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."

If Beale Street Could Talk, the famed author's fifth novel, is a love story set in 1970s Harlem. It follows a young Black couple, 19-year-old Tish (whose real name is Clementine) and 21-year-old Fonny (whose real name is Alonzo). The two become engaged and Tish must work to save Fonny — who was falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of raping another woman — while carrying their firstborn child. It's a story that places a lot of emphasis on family, justice, love, and race, and is relevant today.

Jenkins has wanted to make the film for a long time and wrote the screenplay during the summer of 2013 — the same time he penned Moonlight. Jenkins will be working with Annapurna Pictures, who are behind Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit due out August 4, and production is expected to begin sometime in October.

We're going to help Jenkins out a bit and nominate a few talented young actors and actresses of color to take on the lead roles in this movie. Here are our top choices:

Keke Palmer

Keke Palmer is just 23, and already has risen to stardom in both the music and acting realms. You'll definitely remember this talented young woman from 2006's Akeelah and the Bee but perhaps most recently for Scream Queens.

Ashton Sanders

Ashton Sanders, 21, already starred in Jenkins' Moonlight as one of the three variations of the main character. He is the perfect age to play Fonny and we know he has the acting chops to back it up.


Zendaya, 20, is a young triple threat taking over Hollywood right now. Not only has she been on shows such as K.C. Undercover and Shake It Up, but her latest role is in Spider-Man: Homecoming and the next one up, The Greatest Showman.

Jharrel Jerome

Another Moonlight alum, 19-year-old Jharrel Jerome already won our hearts over in the Oscar-winning film. He's a little young but working with Jenkins would bring out a stellar performance, we just know it.

Imani Hakim

Imani Hakim, 23, got a start on Everybody Hates Chris and also starred as Olympian Gabrielle Douglas in the 2014 Lifetime movie The Gabby Douglas Story. Beyond that, Hakim is currently appearing in the Chocolate City film franchise.

Tyler James Williams

Tyler James Williams, a 24-year-old you might recognize best from Everybody Hates Chris and The Walking Dead, would be a great choice. A bit more seasoned than the other options here, Williams would certainly be a solid choice.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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