How ‘Moonlight’ Director Barry Jenkins Put His Personal Experience on the Screen

Photo via Disney/ABC

What about the film has a sense of home for you?

I grew up a block away from the apartment in the film. And then some of the voices, and the way people’s skin is always shiny—we told the makeup guy: no powder, we need sheen. But the main thing is the mom character, played by Naomie Harris. The playwright Tarell McCraney wrote the source material, like 40-45 pages, non-linear. It jumped back and forth in time, like halfway between the screen and the stage. And when I read it I immediately thought: this is a film. I did not know Tarell growing up, but we grew up literally a block from each other. We went to the same elementary school, and both his mom and my mom lived through that horrible crack-cocaine addiction. And there isn’t a scene with her that didn’t happen to either myself or Tarell. It’s talking about things that I’ve always wanted to talk about. And it was freeing because it’s really difficult to do autobiography, to put your own shit up on screen.

Director Barry Jenkins, whose Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture, in an interview with Film Comment. The movie is an adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and they shared the award for Best Adapted Screenplay Sunday night. After a bizarre mixup, in which La La Land was first announced as the winner, Jenkins said, “Even in my dreams this could not be true. But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it, because this is true.” His reaction on Twitter: