Barry Jenkins’s Story

Moonlight is a powerful film depicting the struggles of growing up poor and black in urban America. Chiron, the gay main character, is bullied by schoolmates, raised by a crack-addicted mother, and grows up to become a drug dealer. But director Barry Jenkins believes that Moonlight’s story of the search for personal identity is one of the reasons that audiences everywhere strongly relate to the film.


Moonlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, is based on an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Jenkins came across the play while looking for a story to film, and discovered that he and McCraney had both been raised in the same Miami housing project, Liberty City, by mothers addicted to crack. Besides winning for best film, their collaboration collected the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film scored some other important firsts, too: first LGBTQ film to win the Best Picture award; and first Muslim to win an acting Oscar (Mahershala Ali as Best Supporting Actor). Ithaca connection: Jharrel Jerome, an Ithaca College sophomore, plays Kevin, Chiron’s teenaged best friend.

Jenkins recently spoke with CNN about the film and its connection to life in Liberty City:

“I’ve been consistently amazed at how often, no matter where I go, no matter how far away from Miami we screen the film, people are finding a way to see themselves in the main character. It’s all about this journey, to sort of figure out who we are, to decide for ourselves what our identity truly is…

“This character is a character who is trying to find his voice. The reason for that is he feels he is unworthy of love. When his mom, this character Paula, comes through the other side of this addiction, she is there to open this door for him to ultimately walk through, to find a way to love himself, and be secure in who he is…

“I basically am this kid. I’m from this background. I am from this world. For a long time, the people from this world couldn’t grow up to harness the tools of filmmaking to tell their stories. I feel very fortune to be able to create visual stories that can speak to this common experience…

“I have always considered myself an ally of LGBTQ causes. I wanted to find a way to take my craft, this visual story telling, and put [it] into active empathy.”

Watch the CNN interview here: