'If Beale Street Could Talk' Actors on James Baldwin and Being Black in America

Kiki Layne and Stephan James star in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1978 novel. It follows a young woman and her family as they attempt to exonerate her fiancé after he’s falsely accused of rape.   

“It taught me a different way of being strong,” Layne said.

James said that filming scenes in prison was difficult for him to shake off every day.

“It’s a heavy burden to carry around when you know you’re speaking for so many people,” he said.

James and Layne say one of their inspirations for their characters was Kalief Browder, who was falsely charged for petty theft of a backpack in 2010. After pleading not guilty to the crime, he spent, three years in jail, two of which were in solitary confinement. Two years after getting released from Rikers, where he was being held, Browder took his own life.

“I paid more attention to how it was affecting his family,” Layne said. “You know, what does it mean to have someone that you love put in that type of situation and what does it mean to fight for that person.”

Both actors aren’t sure that their characters’ circumstance would have gone any differently in the present day with smartphones and social media and very much believe that their story resonates in 2018.

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