|Alma mater||Florida State University|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, producer|
Barry Jenkins (born November 19, 1979) is an American film director, screenwriter and producer. After making his filmmaking debut with the short film My Josephine (2003), he directed his first feature film Medicine for Melancholy (2008) for which he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Feature.
Following an eight-year hiatus from feature filmmaking, Jenkins directed and co-wrote the LGBT-themed independent drama Moonlight (2016), which won numerous accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. Jenkins received an Oscar nomination for Best Director and jointly won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with Tarell Alvin McCraney. He became the fourth black person to be nominated for Best Director and the second black person to direct a Best Picture winner. He released his third directorial feature If Beale Street Could Talk in 2018 to critical praise, and earned nominations for his screenplay at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
He is also known for his work in television. Jenkins directed "Chapter V" of the Netflix series Dear White People in 2017. In 2021, he directed the Amazon Video limited series The Underground Railroad based on the novel of the same name and received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie nomination.
Jenkins was born in 1979 at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, the youngest of four siblings, each from a different father. His father separated from his mother while she was pregnant with Jenkins, believing that he was not Jenkins's father; he died when Jenkins was 12. Jenkins, in later life, still has "no idea who my ‘real’ father is".
His mother, a nurse, suffered from a crack-cocaine addiction, and was a runaway whom Jenkins has said abandoned him. Jenkins grew up in Liberty City, a neighborhood of Miami, and was primarily raised by another older woman (who had also looked after his mother while she was a teenager) in an overcrowded apartment. He attended Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where he played football and ran track. He recalls being a reserved and attentive child.
Jenkins studied film at the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts, where he met many of his future frequent collaborators, including cinematographer James Laxton, producer Adele Romanski and editors Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon. Feeling inadequate in regards to his technological skillmanship, Jenkins took a year off to advance it. While at Florida State, Jenkins became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Four days after graduating from FSU, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a filmmaking career, spending two years working on various projects as a production assistant.
2000s–2010s: Early work
Jenkins' first film was his 2003 short My Josephine, about an Arab-American couple who clean American flags for a living. His breakout film was Medicine for Melancholy, a low-budget independent feature produced by Strike Anywhere films and released in 2008. The movie, which has been linked to the mumblecore scene, stars Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins. Jenkins recalled that the movie represented the "place where [he] was both physically, emotionally, and mentally". The film underwent "the usual tour of festivals garnering its share of nominations, reviews, small awards and limited release distribution in major cities in 2009 and 2010"; it was well received by critics.
Following Medicine for Melancholy, Jenkins wrote two features, neither of which entered production at the time: an epic for Focus Features about "Stevie Wonder and time travel" and an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk. He later worked as a carpenter and co-founded Strike Anywhere, an advertising company. In 2011, he wrote and directed Remigration, a sci-fi short film about gentrification. Jenkins became a writer for HBO's The Leftovers, about which he has said, "I didn't get to do much." In 2012, he received a United States Artists Fellowship grant.
Jenkins directed and co-wrote, with Tarell Alvin McCraney, the 2016 drama Moonlight, his first feature film in eight years. It's an adaptation of McCarney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue; both's lives influenced the production, having spent their childhoods in close proximity although without knowing each other. Jenkins' screenplay – which he composed in ten days – expands upon McCraney's story, having more resources and control at his disposal than he had before. The film was shot in 25 days, in Miami, and premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2016 to a substantial amount of awards and critical acclaim. According to film scholar Rahul Hamid, it was among the "most celebrated films of 2016, boasting...inclusion in all of the major top ten lists".
A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: "Moonlight dwells on the dignity, beauty and terrible vulnerability of black bodies, on the existential and physical matter of black lives." Variety wrote: "Barry Jenkins' vital portrait of a South Florida youth revisits the character at three stages in his life, offering rich insights into the contemporary African-American experience." David Sims of The Atlantic wrote: "Like all great films, Moonlight is both specific and sweeping. It's a story about identity—an intelligent, challenging work."
The film won dozens of accolades, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture – Drama and the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. Jenkins and McCraney also won Best Adapted Screenplay. Overall, the film received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Director. Speaking on the film's Best Picture win, film professors Racquel Gates and Michael Boyce Gillespie said that it "made history".
2017–present: Further projects
In 2013, the same year he wrote Moonlight, Jenkins had written a film adaptation of James Baldwin's novel If Beale Street Could Talk. Production began in October 2017 with Annapurna Pictures, Pastel, and Plan B. Jenkins worked closely with Baldwin's estate and was given handwritten notes about how he would have approached a film version – "a slow epiphany" is how Jenkins described reading the notes. The adaptation is largely faithful to the source material, although aspects, such as the opening, are changed. The film was released in December 2018 to critical acclaim. It garnered numerous accolades, including Best Supporting Actress wins for Regina King at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Jenkins received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Jenkins directed the 2021 television series adaptation of Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad, the series being a passion project for Jenkins. It was initiated by Amazon Studios (and subsequently ordered to series in June 2018) after Jenkins' strong Oscar haul for Moonlight. The main cast of The Underground Railroad includes Thuso Mbedu as Cora, with Chase W. Dillon as Homer and Aaron Pierre as Caesar; Jenkins and the casting director, Francine Maisler, searched worldwide for an actor to play Cora and sought those then-undiscovered. The series' creation was deeply personal, proving to be the most difficult project of his career yet and resulting in him feeling a closer attachment to his ancestral past.
The next major film Jenkins is set to direct is a prequel to the CGI remake of Disney's The Lion King that primarily concerns the coming of age origins of Mufasa. Upcoming projects include a screenplay based on the life of Claressa Shields and a biographical film about choreographer Alvin Ailey which he will direct. More recently, his Pastel production company signed a first look deal with HBO, HBO Max and A24.
Jenkins has a close working relationship with cinematographer James Laxton, stating that "the way we are on set is a shared language, a shared approach to the imagery". On set, Jenkins said that their goal is to incorporate as much of their preceding deliberations as possible whilst still considerate of the actors' needs and available time. He has dubbed himself a "termite filmmaker", "always on set thinking about what else I can do".[a] Jenkins has cited Baldwin as a significant influence.
Despite a more intense plot and themes, discussing parenting, friendship, and black masculinity, especially in regards to sexual orientation, Jenkins made the decision to invert Medicine for Melancholy's sombre color palette in Moonlight; he wished for the audience to be immersed and for there to be a "softness around the characters" – a desire also reflected in his choice of aspect ratio, 2:35. Each of the film's three distinct chapters feature specific visuals, with the general visuals underscoring the themes of the film and intended to "elevate" the story.
Inspired by Claire Denis – his favourite director – Jenkins emphasized craftsmanship with Moonlight and its text represents a process, evidenced by aspects such as the blue and red lights: "Those lights are the timecode, they are running and flashing the whole time. So you are seeing the time passing between the actors performing in those chapter moments". Time is a particular interest of Jenkins: "If for [Sergei] Eisenstein the information is in the cut, then for me that information is time"; in Moonlight he "transforms time's passing into a series of rites of passage" and uses chopped and screwed's manipulation of time throughout the film.
Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk and The Underground Railroad compose, in the eyes of Jenkins, a thematic trilogy, exploring childhood abandonment – including his own feelings. Moonlight depicts his childhood experience as he lived it whereas If Beale Street Could Talk showcased his, at times, desired family; Whitehead's novel helped him process his feelings of abandonment and he recognized separation of family as a prominent aspect of the story.
In both Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight, Jenkins couples introspection with speculation upon black identity. Jenkins has stated that, amidst his solemn consideration of the craft and formalism of film, he seeks to articulate his "personal experience, what it feels like to be a young black man in America". If Beale Street Could Talk focuses upon the solace and life of black Americans, particularly within the framework of incarceration. With Moonlight, Jenkins intertwined "well-known images and stories of contemporary Black life" with queer identity.
Moonlight features a "radical reenvisioning of black masculinity, one that willfully departs from the legacy of Hollywood bestowed by [D. W.] Griffith". In defiance of traditional Hollywood portrayals of black slaves as virtuous, The Underground Railroad sees Jenkins examine their identity and perception. "I hope it can recontextualise rather than reinforce stereotypes about my ancestors, that have been allowed to persist over the decades", he said. Jenkins inspects the interactions between white and black Americans and the former's often "callous" intentions that eclipses their "initially benign" appearance. Medicine for Melancholy explores intimacy "amidst personal and racial ambivalence".
|2008||Medicine for Melancholy||Yes||Yes||No|||
|2018||If Beale Street Could Talk||Yes||Yes||Yes|||
|2020||Charm City Kings||No||Story||No|||
|Untitled Lion King prequel||Yes||No||No|
|Untitled Alvin Ailey film||Yes||No||No|
|Untitled Virunga adaptation||No||Yes||No|
|2017||Dear White People||Yes||No||No||Episode: "Chapter V"|||
|2021||The Underground Railroad||Yes||Yes||Yes||10 episodes|||
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- Peter., Lurie, (2018). American obscurantism. History and the visual in U.S. literature and film. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-19-979731-8. OCLC 1056195413.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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- "Medicine for Melancholy (2008) | Awards" IMDb.
- "Moonlight (I) (2016) | Awards" IMDb.
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