Director Barry Jenkins is fresh off of a big Golden Globes win with his film "Moonlight" snagging the top honor of the night as Best Motion Picture, Drama. And with that big win combined with big buzz heading into awards season, Jenkins has already found a way to keep a level head.
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"I went through this process before on a much lower level," Jenkins said in a recent appearance on "Popcorn With Peter Travers." "And I became aware of what it can be like when you read your own press. I sat down with myself and I decided what I felt the movie was, the quality of what we’d done. And the result was I was very proud of the film. And I kind of just stay in that place.”
The film is based on a play written by Jenkins’ childhood friend Tarell McCraney. Jenkins describes the film, starring Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, as a coming-of-age film, about a kid growing up in South Central Miami.
"We kind of break it down into three chapters, three vignettes from this guy’s life, one when he's a child, one when he's a teenager, one when he's a young man," said Jenkins. "And in doing it that way, we kind of put a magnifying glass on how the world is shaping these young men in the community that I grew up in, which is the same as the playwright’s Tarell McCraney," he said.
The film pulls no punches in telling the story of an often difficult childhood.
"The character played by Naomie Harris, Paula, who is our main character's mom, is addicted to crack cocaine. And both my mom and Tarell's mom were both addicted to crack cocaine. Tarell and I grew up blocks from each other. It's quite likely that my mom and his mom used drugs together," he said.
Jenkins, 37, told Peter Travers that because the film hit home so much, he tried to make it for an audience of two, himself and McCraney.
“I think if you create something that’s distinct and unique, you’ll get a genuine, a visceral reaction out of the person receiving it,” said Jenkins. “It’s not that the movie and its specificity is relatable to everyone. That’s not what I found. What I found is because Tarell and I are two guys from a certain block, in a certain neighborhood, in a certain era and our moms went through a certain ordeal, somebody as far as Boise, Idaho, goes, ‘My neighborhood’s nothing like Miami, and yet I went through this thing, on this corner with my uncle and my mom.’ It starts at our feet and you can see how it relates to your feet,” he said.
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Jenkins added that it’s tough for him to watch the movie with an audience.
“I’ve only done it in full once,” he said. "I sat through it in Toronto. I sat through 80 percent of it. I kept finding reasons to go to the bathroom. A part of it is because the movie is so personal, and the actors do such an amazing job. There are just certain things where I’m not watching a movie. I’m watching certain elements of my life. And most of those things we think of in our heads when we’re alone. You’re not sharing that with everyone around you. In a theater, everyone is sitting there watching your memories. And this beautiful thing happens, at least it happened in the screening in Toronto and it was very emotional. I could feel people feeling the things that I was feeling."