MOONLIGHT received “Best Picture” win at 2017 Golden Globes
Director Barry Jenkins with Talk2SV
MOONLIGHT, the film, is the illumination of Chiron.
Chiron, a resilient though vulnerable male child of a drug-addicted single mother in South Central Florida, unfolds in three phases of his life: elementary school Chiron (Alex Hibbert), high school Chiron (Ashton Sanders), and young adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes).
Directed by Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”), MOONLIGHT is emotively searing and brilliant.
The cast also includes Naomie Harris (“Skyfall”), Janelle Monae (“Hidden Figures”) and Andre Holland (“42,” “Black or White,” “Selma”).
Late last year, I sat down with Jenkins in San Francisco to discuss his breathtaking film, Best Picture winner at the 2017 Golden Globes awards.
Sandra Varner Talk2SV: I describe the heartbeat of this story as a portrait of emotional conflict among boyhood friends–growing up in the confines of a defenseless community–with few role models to help chart their course, save for an impassioned drug dealer. How much of the story is steeped in realism versus an on screen life lesson?
Barry Jenkins: I wanted it to be rooted in realism for sure and, in particular, because of the source material. I wanted to have the freedom to get away from that realism when I brought in certain characters that dictated it was time to get away from that realism.
Vulture’s E. Alex Jung details the origins of MOONLIGHT in this excerpt—
The playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney originally wrote the source material for Moonlight over a decade ago, after he graduated from DePaul University. The work remained in the background as McCraney’s career took off: He graduated from the Yale School of Drama, wrote a number of critically acclaimed plays (including a trilogy known as The Brother/Sister Plays), and won both a MacArthur Genius grant and the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize. It wasn’t until 2010 that director Barry Jenkins got the script, originally called In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and rewrote it into the film.
Moonlight is a semi-autobiographical work that draws from both McCraney’s and Jenkins’s own experiences. The pair grew up at the same time in the same neighborhood of Liberty City in Miami, but it wasn’t until Moonlight that they first met. Or, as McCraney told Vulture over the phone in early November, “We were seeing the same moon, and yet we just weren’t looking at each other.” The playwright discussed the importance of naming characters, adapting the material for the screen, and the gender binds that dark-skinned black men experience.
Talk2SV: Addressing your point of certain characters in this film, the role of Juan (Mahershala Ali of “The
Hunger Games”) is quite affecting. Ali’s portrayal as the compassionate, protective drug dealer who served as a pseudo father figure provided a searing perspective unlike any we’ve seen in recent movie history. Perhaps we could liken the essence of Ali’s role in MOONLIGHT to that of Terrence Howard’s role in HUSTLE AND FLOW as DJay; a drug-dealing, small-time pimp driven by a tenacious desire to become a rap star.
Jenkins: I wanted this movie to be rooted in a place; I wanted it to be authentic to what that place was like. That’s why the movie opens with a drug deal taking place out in the open air because [in that place] that’s where those things happen. At the same time, the movie, the source material is based on Tarell’s actual friendship with a character like Juan. Without Juan, this story would not exist.
Tarell’s whole point was to put on paper this very impactful relationship he had with basically, this surrogate father who just happened to be a drug dealer. Referencing Juan in conversation with a friend, he observed, “a black drug dealer is usually just a black drug dealer on screen: he’s not a father, he’s not a brother, he’s not an uncle, and he’s not a cousin that you know. He didn’t come from somewhere, he’s not going somewhere else, and he just exists as this thing…as this type.”
For Tarell, this man was so much more, he was all these contradictions. I think when you get an actor of Mahershala’s caliber; you get all of these different layers that come out, as far as the empathy. For me, this whole film was about intimacy, empathy and love.
I felt by giving the characters the space the story needed, it’s a very patient and in some places, this is a very quiet film. Instead of people just yap, yap, yapping, you actually watch these characters interact. I’ve never seen a black man cook for another black man in film and I’ve never seen two black men in the Atlantic Ocean and they’re teaching each other. Juan is teaching Chiron how to survive. Those kinds of images were really important to me because, as a director, these are my tools.
A partial list of Golden Globe winners follows:
Best picture, drama: “Moonlight”
Best picture, comedy or musical: “La La Land”
Actor, drama: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Actress, comedy or musical: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Actor, comedy or musical: Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Supporting actress: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Animated film: “Zootopia”
Best TV series, drama: “The Crown,” Netflix
Best TV series, comedy or musical: “Atlanta,” FX
Best television movie or mini-series: “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” FX
Actress, mini-series or television movie: Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
Actor, TV drama: Billy Bob Thornton, “Goliath”
Actress, TV comedy or musical: Tracee Ellis Ross, “black-ish”