If Beale Street Could Talk, What Would It Say? Comparing James Baldwin's Novel and Barry Jenkins' Film
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This research is a comparison between James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) and Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation with the same name that premiered in 2018. Positioning itself within literary- and adaptation studies, this project offers separate analyses of the novel and the film that engage with these works’ medium-specificity, before comparing Baldwin’s version to Jenkins’ version. Both works tell the same story of Tish Rivers and the attempts of her family to get her wrongfully imprisoned boyfriend released from jail. However, the endings to both works are different, and the genres ascribed to the novel and the film also differ. This research is an investigation into the correlation between the different endings and the different genre classifications, arguing that by omitting certain parts of the ending to Baldwin’s Beale Street, Jenkins decreases the ending’s ambiguity, allowing for an easier categorisation of the film as a romance. However, even though the endings are drastically different, this research argues that both works focus on the same themes of hope and the importance of the black family, only in different, medium-specific ways. This decrease of ambiguity allows for Jenkins’ version to end on a more positive note, while still expressing the same concerns and the same message. Tying this to the historical and cultural contexts the works were produced in, the argument is made that it is the temporal distance between the two works that created the urgency to adapt this story to a new medium while at the same time this distance is what allowed Jenkins to romanticize the story unproblematically.