Newcomer Kiki Layne lands lead in Barry Jenkins' film adaptation of James Baldwin's 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

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September 13th 2017

Barry Jenkins' film adaptation of James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk has found its female lead!

Newcomer Kiki Layne will portray Tish, the film's lead.

More than 300 women were auditioned for the role. According to Variety, Layne "immediately won over Jenkins, who was blown away by her reading" — similarly to how Jenkins discovered Trevante Rhodes for Moonlight. 

She recently graduated from DePaul University and also has a supporting role in the upcoming film, Captive State with John Goodman, Vera Farmiga and Moonlight star Ashton Sanders.

“We saw hundreds of young women and while many were artists with gifts we admired, Kiki Layne’s ability to showcase a rich interior life ultimately won the day. I absolutely adore working with her and cannot wait to have her join us in translating Baldwin’s vision of this heroine to the screen," said Jenkins.

In July, we learned Jenkins would direct the adaptation and a few weeks ago, we reported that Shots Fired star Stephan James had been cast in the film in the male lead role of Fonny, Tish's fiance.

This is another coup for Annapurna's distribution, which had Kathryn Bigelow-directed Detroit in August.

Baldwin's novel revolves around a pregnant 19-year-old Harlem woman, named Tish, and her 22-year-old fiance, Fonny. After he is falsely accused of raping another woman, she, her family and their lawyer work to prove his innocence.

For years, Jenkins has talked about his admiration of Baldwin and his desire to adapt Beale Street. He wrote the screen adaption for the novel when he wrote Moonlight. He told Esquire, "Beale Street I wrote in Berlin. Moonlight I wrote in Belgium. I wrote it without the rights because again, in some ways, it was a reaction to putting so much energy in the commercial company. No matter how much you convince yourself, that kind of work purely about making money. I said, Well, I'm going to just do exactly what I want to do. I love this book. I love this play. I'm going to write those things, and I'll fucking figure it out after. Yeah, I mean, here it is three years later. I still don't have the rights to the book, as I shouldn't. Mr. Baldwin's only been adapted once. This would only be the second time. It's a big deal. It's a big responsibility. But because of the success of Moonlight in the marketplace, the estate has seen the film. And I think in that film they can see my intentions with Beale Street, so it's on the horizon. I don't have the rights, but it's on the horizon."

Baldwin's sister, Gloria-Karefa-Smart said, "We are delighted to entrust Barry Jenkins with this adaptation. Barry is a sublimely conscious and gifted filmmaker, whose Medicine for Melancholy impressed us so greatly that we had to work with him."

Since Moonlight, Jenkins has directed a critically-acclaimed episode of Netflix's Dear White People and is set to direct an Amazon miniseries based on The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

by Trey Mangum on September 13th 2017
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