His last two films have garnered critical raves, awards, and multiple Oscar nominations. We're highlighting for Black History Month the hugely talented director, producer, and screenwriter Barry Jenkins.
How You Know Him
After an 8-year hiatus from his debut film, 2008's "Medicine for Melancholy," Jenkins took the industry by storm with his revelatory tale of a young, gay Black man's upbringing in a poor Florida community, "Moonlight." The film won Best Picture at both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Jenkins also won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Two years later, Jenkins' third film, "If Beale Street Could Talk," was another massive critical success, and again earned multiple Academy Award nominations, with Jenkins up again for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Regina King winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Based on the James Baldwin book, "Beale Street" is an elegiac love story set in Harlem that follows a young woman's fight to prove her lover's innocence before the birth of their first child.
Their Life So Far
The 41-year-old filmmaker was raised in a poor neighborhood in Miami, Florida. He was the youngest of four siblings, all with different fathers. He was mostly raised by another woman (who'd looked after his mom as a teenager) in a too-crowded apartment. He played football and track in high school, and then studied film at Florida State University.
During the '00s, Jenkins received positive feedback for his 2003 short "My Josephine," and his eventual feature-length debut "Medicine for Melancholy" in 2008. Taking a hiatus rom the industry after that, Jenkins gradually worked his way back into Hollywood with minor work on HBO's "The Leftovers" (he's also directed tv for an episode of "Dear White People").
"Moonlight" was Jenkins' incredible breakthrough, telling an original, heartbreaking, ultimately optimistic story about a young, gay Black man at three different points in his life, doing his best to overcome his environment and own his real identity. Played by three different actors (as a young boy, teen and grown adult), the character is a revelation, as is the story, which has true empathy and compassion. It is a moving experience and a testament to the filmmaker, who grew up in these same neighborhoods.
Jenkins' follow-up, "If Beale Street Could Talk," further proved he's a humanistic creator with an eye for authentic, lived-in performances and soulful, beautiful imagery. All the performances in "Beale Street" are amazing, but Regina King as the caring mother who does everything she can for her daughter, her daughter's lover, and their unborn child, is unforgettable. It's a special film, and like "Moonlight," well worth seeking out.
The Movie to Watch
We're recommending both "Moonlight" and "If Beale Street Could Talk." "Moonlight" received more attention, but they're both equally amazing. Jenkins is a unique filmmaker and these films are ones to take in and savor. They say a lot about the Black experience, and their feelings are universal.
Drama / 2016
A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami. His epic journey to manhood is guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that helps raise him.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Crime Drama / 2018
In early 1970s Harlem, daughter and wife-to-be Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny. Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together, but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
What's Up Next
Jenkins has two projects in development. He's set to produce and write "Flint Strong" about real-life boxer Claressa Shields, and her preparation for the 2012 Olympics. And in a change of pace, Jenkins is attached to direct the follow-up to the live-action "The Lion King," with the story now focused on the coming of age of Mufasa.
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