Offering a comparative analysis of James Baldwin’s original 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk and the 2018 cinematic adaption directed by Barry Jenkins, this essay argues that the film adaptation successfully reconstructs the novel’s depictions of racial injustice and contemplations of heterotopias as sites for potential Black agency but creates notable slippages from the novel’s positions on religion, family, and gender. On the one hand, Jenkins closely follows Baldwin’s social protest theme and retains discursive contemplations of the street and prison as heterotopian spaces where systemic racism occurs but can also be protested. On the other hand, Jenkins’ adaptation centralizes Black romantic heterosexual love to the point of diminishing Baldwin’s messaging about the need for family solidarity, the need for humanist solidarity, and the danger posed by fundamentalist religion to Black family solidarity. Jenkins’ adaptation widens Baldwin’s perlocutionary influence among people who would be uninterested in reading a novel but who would be willing to see a film, and potentially triggers audience members into thinking about the existential crisis of Black people in an anti-Black world, but would also be more societally helpful if it retained Baldwin’s messages about hypocritical religiosity, family solidarity, and gender equality.

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