When Barry Jenkins' film Moonlight premiered at Telluride this year, he had no idea how many people would connect with his drama about a gay, black boy growing up in a tough Miami neighborhood. Turns out, a lot of people have found something to relate to in the movie, and it's now a strong awards contender. Jenkins and producer Adele Romanski, who have been friends since college, tell us how the film came to be, and why part of the script was written on a European jaunt to Brussels.
Photo: Actor Alex Hibbert in Barry Jenkins' film Moonlight. (David Bornfriend/A24)
The new movie Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, who grows up black, poor and gay in Miami.
Early in the film, when classmates chase him into an abandoned building, he falls under the protection of Juan, played by Mahershala Ali. Like all the characters in Moonlight, Juan is complicated. He's a drug dealer who takes an interest in Chiron, and is able to serve as a parent figure when his mother, played by Naomie Harris, cannot.
Later we see Chiron as a high-schooler and then as a young adult, trying to make his way in a world that is unwilling accept him. Three different actors portray Chiron at the various stages of his life.
This is the second movie for writer-director Barry Jenkins. He made his first film, Medicine for Melancholy, on a $15,000 production budget with a loan from a friend. Eight years passed before Jenkins was back with Moonlight.
Producer Adele Romanski and Jenkins went to film school together at Florida State. When we sat down with them, Jenkins told us that growing up in the same poverty-stricken Miami neighborhood as his main character, he had no thought of becoming a filmmaker. He explains what made him pursue filmmaking, how he encountered the play he eventually adapted to become Moonlight, and how a tough-love phone call from Romanski kicked the process into gear.
Moonlight premiered to rave reviews at Telluride and is now in the awards race. Jenkins told us he had no idea how the film would be received since for most people, the world portrayed in the film is a "world apart" from most people's experiences, but he's been "consistently amazed at how much people are seeing of themselves in the film."