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Barry Jenkins Says His Favorite Moment in Beale Street Is the ‘Simple Sh*t’

Photo: Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/Getty Images

There’s so much to love in Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk: the tender chemistry between stars Stephan James and KiKi Layne, Regina King’s buzzy supporting performance, dialogue plucked from Baldwin’s own prose. At an Annapurna reception for the awards contender, Vulture asked Jenkins which scene was his personal favorite. “I’m into the simple shit,” he began. “The scene where Fonny is working on his sculpture, near the end of the film. That’s probably my favorite moment in the film.”

In Beale Street, James plays Fonny, a Harlem artist falsely imprisoned for a rape he didn’t commit. As his girlfriend Tish (Layne) and her family work to free him, the movie flashes back to a simpler time, showing Fonny examining a sculpture he’s working on as the Nicholas Britell score swells. It’s nearly a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it’s powerful. “I think you can see these things that we’re dealing with, all the hope and the aspirations that Fonny has. Earlier in the film, Tish says ‘Fonny had found something that he wanted to do, and this saved him from the death that was waiting to overtake the children of our age,’” Jenkins told Vulture. “Somehow Fonny still finds himself in a circumstance where his death becomes a reality. And he’s still trying to hold onto this thing that makes him whole, which is his work. I can understand that what that feels like.”

Adapting Baldwin’s novel was a long process, one that began long before Jenkins made Moonlight. In conversation — and in the movie’s dedication at the end — Jenkins calls Baldwin “Jimmy.” Was it a process, coming to feel so comfortable with a writer he’d idolized since his early twenties? “To try to take authorship of [someone else’s novel involves] a very intimate relationship,” he said. “That card, at the end, used to say ‘Dedicated to James Baldwin.’ And then it was ‘For Mr. Baldwin,’ and then it was ‘For James Baldwin.’ And then I was like, You know what? It was fucking hell to make this movie. I’m going to make it say ‘For Jimmy.’ Then Jenkins adds with a laugh: “Now, look, if it was a Toni Morrison adaptation, I would never say ‘For Toni.’ But Mr. Baldwin is not here to check me, to say, Don’t call me Jimmy. It’s not a one-way relationship, but I did feel like I had drifted closer to him, close enough so that I could call him Jimmy.”

Barry Jenkins Explains His Favorite Beale Street Scene