Barry Jenkins stood in front of a massive screen Saturday night at the National Air and Space Museum as he introduced his film "If Beale Street Could Talk," the closing feature of the inaugural Smithsonian African American Film Festival. Jenkins, who later tweeted that he looked at from the audience's perspective.
"This is the only Imax presentation of this movie ever, He said, laughing.
This was not the first place in the history of James Baldwin's adaptation, but the festival was originally organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The red carpet that precedes the screening ended up 90-year-old aircrafts suspended from the new location's ceiling.
But unexpected circumstances did not prevent Jenkins and his cast from oozing excitement. Their positive spirit of the director of work, which highlights how powerful can be in the face of adversity. The theme ran through his Oscar-winning film "Moonlight" before "Beale Street," which is set in 1970s Harlem and centers on the newly-married and expecting couple Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo "Fonny" Hunt (Stephan James), whose lives are derailed after a racist police officer arrests Fonny for a crime he did not commit. The latter film marks the first time in English-language feature.
Roland Martin, #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign and activist DeRay Mckesson – the last of whom, wearing his trademark Patagonia vest, commented on the current state of American politics: "There are very few adequate days that come out of this White House, "he said.
James and Layne, dressed in a gorgeous rust suit and a bejeweled nude dress, respectively, spoke to reporters stationed in front of "Beale Street" posters bearing the young actors' faces. Baldwin adaptation – "This is going to introduce James Baldwin and his words and his way of thinking," Layne said – and praised Jenkins, whom James referred to as a "true author" more than once, for fostering a family vibe on set.
Regina King served as the matriarch of that family – both on screen, where she plays Tish's determined mother, Sharon, and off. James remarked that he calls King "mama," having worked with her once before. Layne, who had never starred in a film feature before "Beale Street," who has been "beautiful" to work with heavyweight, who taught her that "no matter how many years I spend in Hollywood, no matter how big my star gets, I can still be. . . as grounded as I was before I booked this thing. "
King has already earned Oscar buzz for her passionate, gut-wrenching performance in the film. She ordered the carpet in her peach gown and reciprocated Layne's heartfelt praise. The young actress puts in the work, King said, and takes time to appreciate the resulting success.
"So often, we do not," King said. "We push, push, push, push, push, and we do not take the time to smell the flower and feel what's happening. She's doing that, and I applaud her. "
Jenkins took extra care in guiding Layne through the process, too, in the aftermath of a post-screening process in which Jenkins's directing style calls for. On the red carpet, though, Jenkins spoke more broadly on what it meant to him to be able to bring a touching story like "Beale Street" to the big screen in this current political climate.
"I think we're all kind of just looking for that thing that we can do very well, very dark times," Jenkins said. "In this book in particular – and in" Moonlight, "in a certain way – the thing that gives the characters the strength to endure is love. I like to say that most people's lives are about the abundance or absence of love. So far, that's been the main drive in the work I've created. "