African American writers have been ignored for too long by Hollywood but “things are going to change radically”, declared the Oscar-winning filmmaker of ‘Moonlight’, Barry Jenkins.
The director said James Baldwin, one of the greatest American novelists of the last century has never been adapted for the big screen in his homeland, while Toni Morrison — “one of the greatest US authors to have ever lived” — has only made it once with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘Beloved’.
“Black writers in general are not adapted as often as their white counterparts in the US,” said Jenkins, in Paris promoting his new film ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ — based on a book by Baldwin — which is in the running for three Oscars this year.
The 1974 story of a young black man and women in Harlem whose lives are turned upsidedown by an unplanned pregnancy and a false accusation of rape, was previously filmed in France.
Director Robert Guediguian transposed the story to the port of Marseille in “A la place du coeur” (Where the Heart Is) in 1998, but made the relationship at its heart an interracial one.
Baldwin, who died in 1987, lived most of his life in exile, mostly in France.
‘I Am Not Your Negro’, a documentary drawn from his unfinished manuscript about racism in America, ‘Remember This House’, by the Haitian-born director Raoul Peck, was nominated for an Oscar in 2017.
Jenkins insisted that black stories and the work of black writers are about to step out of the shadows in Hollywood.
“I think now, with what’s happening in cinema, particularly in black cinema, it’s going to radically change that. The industry has just caught up with Baldwin and not the other way round,” he said.
He said the success of his ‘Moonlight’, the story of a young black boy in Florida coming to terms with his homosexuality, was a pointer of things to come.
“What nobody ever acknowledges is that the Academy, this group that we think has been overwhelmingly white and male and conservative actually voted for a film [‘Moonlight’] made by the filmmaker no one had heard of, featuring a character struggling with sexual identity. That actually happened.”
The success of blockbuster films like ‘Black Panther’ with its black superheroes is also remaking the landscape, he said.
“‘Black Panther’ made more than a billion dollars. It is already a great year for black cinema,” said Jenkins, who is now adapting Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel, ‘The Underground Railway’, about black slaves escaping the American South in the 19th century.