Moonlight Interview with Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
The film Moonlight has been nominated for numerous awards, including Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score.
In late 2016, YRB sat down with the director Barry Jenkins and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney to discuss how the movie was made.
YRB: Tell us why it was important to you to get this story out?
Barry Jenkins: When I read it, I fell in love with the characters. I was actually shocked, because Tarell took our neighborhood, Liberty City and just put it up there. No one else had done that.
I was struck by how brave it was with those types of characters.
Tarell Alvin McCraney: I was trying to figure out my manhood and childhood. I was the son of a crack addict who died of AIDS related complications. I never had an intimate relationship by then. I really wanted to create a laboratory to figure out my life if it went in different directions. That was the impetus.
I was taught how to ride a bike and to swim by a drug dealer.
Those were dangerous times growing up for people that were different. (Queer)
I wrote plays before so I knew it was very visual and it was intended for the stage. In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, a drama school project was the inspiration for the film. When you are working with a person who wants to champion your story, it is more exciting and Barry did that for this film.
YRB: How did you prepare for the film and why the location of Liberty City?
Barry Jenkins: Moonlight is a very contemporary story. It could have been shot anywhere in the world. It is a timeless story. The locations in Liberty City still feels like it did back in 1987. The paint on the some of the walls is still the same and we didn’t have to do much for the look and feel. I have relatives living in the area, so we were able to shoot a lot of it undisturbed. The whole community really supported us.
YRB: How did you come to cast these actors?
Barry Jenkins: The casting director, Yesi Ramirez knew what we were looking for. The guys had the same feeling in theirs eyes and you can see that in all three actors. That served as the bedrock for the characters. Not much rehearsals. I did not allow them to meet each other but all the actors had the entire script.
YRB: Why do you feel this film is important for everyone?
Barry Jenkins: When you see the journey that the main character undergoes, you can see the power we have to affect other people. It will allow the audience to humanize and identify with him whether you’re straight, gay, LGBQT, etc.
Tarell Alvin McCraney: I didn’t hug another man until I was 19 years old. We lose our vulnerability, intimacy, and friendship because we embed this sense of hyper masculinity and antifeminism in our young boys for no reason.
I remember one time being called “faggot” in school, and it didn’t bother me because at the time I was thinking about passing a Math test. The notion is, that of you are queer or gay, you are thinking about sex all the time.
The reality is I had to deal with everything else a teenager has to deal with in high school. I didn’t really have the time to think about my sexuality. What about the people who are not taunted, but say nothing in defense?
Anti-gay slurs don’t just affect the people of the rainbow. It affects all of us. The characters survive differently and they understand they can be more than one thing to more than one person. And sometimes that is dangerous.
YRB: How important was the ending and not to define the relationship?
Barry Jenkins: It was all about creating a space, in the last 25 minutes, the time shifts from years, weeks and days to real time.
Tarell Alvin McCraney: Who knows where the attraction lies? It is a definitely a story about queer people and their experiences.
YRB: How much of the script is autobiographical?
Tarell Alvin McCraney: About two thirds of the script is based on my life.
Barry Jenkins: I want to add, there are also parts of the film that are autobiographical to myself, some were parts Tarrell and we blended it together.
YRB: Talk about the music, You are chopping and screwing Mozart. How did that come about?
(Chopped and screwed is a technique of remixing hip hop music by slowing the tempo down to between 60 and 70 quarter-note beats per minute and applying, record scratching, stop-time, and affecting portions of the music to make a “chopped-up” version of the original)
Barry Jenkins: I wanted an orchestral score and it informs my filmmaking but it’s not the music I grew with in Liberty City. It was Nicholas Britell‘s idea to chop and screw the score.
Instead of taking art-house to the hood, we took the hood to the art-house.
Moonlight is in theaters nationwide. click here for the trailer