• Taylor Louise

Novel & Film:'If Beale Street Could Talk'

The differences between the novel and the film that I found to be very shocking...



When I first saw the preview for If Beale Street Could Talk I added it to my movie list. And as soon as I discovered that it was based on a novel, by James Baldwin no less, I added it to my book list. A few weeks ago I finished the novel and a few days ago I went to see the movie. The movie, directed by Barry Jenkins, in my opinion is a masterful work of art and a creative success. I really think that Baldwin would be proud of the way his story was portrayed. But the movie ended completely differently than the book and my heart was very heavy, so heavy that I couldn't really function properly until I had written some things down about my experience.


Here's an excerpt from my journal. Novel and Film spoilers ahead. I included some bracketed edits. Also I don't spend nearly enough time praising the film, it really was magnificent.


Friday, January 11, 2018

"...I went and saw a matinee of If Beale Street Could Talk. Let me say this film was masterfully done and exceptionally casted. I kept crying in the beginning because I identify with Tish [played by Kiki Layne], the main character, so much, she's my age and everything, and Regina King's character was so so much like my mom and how my mom would be in that scenario/situation and is on the daily. -->There were even surprise cast appearances like Brian Tyree Henry and Dave Franco




The storytelling was almost identical to the novel, even in the sequence it was told in [I cannot stress enough the attention to detail]. But the ending was different and that's what makes my heart heavy. The book ends hopefully-This black family overcomes insurmountable odds and gets Fonny out. The last two sentences paint a scene of Fonny and Tish in their [somewhat] furnished home with their baby softly crying. He's free. The movie portrays Fonny still in jail, even after Tish has the baby. In fact, the child looks at least four in the closing scene where Tish and her child are visiting Fonny in prison. And the child is writing something that they reference on screen but we [the audience] never see. What is he writing? I guess the hope is that the child is free, I guess the film was meant to portray a reality and not a miracle.


It [the ending] reminded me of Jordan Peele's original ending for Get Out: a cop finds Daniel Kaluuya's character and he goes to prison. But Peele made it more positive in light of the BLM protests etc. He felt like people were woke enough for a happy ending. This movie [If Beale Street Could Talk] does teach a very valuable lesson and shows a common reality for black people past and present [mass incarceration and a corrupt justice system]. But I wanted my miracle and happy ending...


Anyway, it was a beautiful film that followed the book perfectly until the end. I know it teaches us all something and Barry Jenkins has a purpose-also we know in the film that Fonny takes a plea deal but we don't know how long is sentence is-. Now I'm gonna read up on some articles and study why the ending was different in the film...when the film had followed the book's narrative so perfectly. Hopefully I can find some closure-maybe there's even a Baldwin interview where he wishes he wrote a sadder, more realistic ending; there was a meaningful quote by him in the beginning referencing the significance of the title...


Maybe I wont find 'closure' but in the search I'll appreciate the art and the lessons and the care in which this film was created"


Here are the two articles I read:

How Barry Jenkins Turned His Baldwin Obsession Into His Next Movie

'If Beale Street Could Talk' Review: Love Hoping for Justice



The first one especially opened my mind. I understand that this story is much bigger than me and the negative ways it made me feel: hopeless, confused, upset. And to be fair, it also allowed my to feel a range of all sorts of positive emotions. Something that also struck me is that other people walk away from this film completely taken by its beauty. So far every person I've talked to claims that their main takeaway is how beautiful the story was. Even I can't deny that the beauty of the film was not overshadowed by the heartbreak.


Great job James Baldwin, Barry Jenkins, and every single creative who had a hand in making this film! I have so much to learn!

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