Barry Jenkins is a storyteller, with an interesting story of his own. He grew up in a low-income part of Miami (“the projects,” in his words) and played football in high school. Then he went to film school at Florida State University, where he fell in love with foreign art films—particularly those of Claire Denis and Wong Kar-Wai—and studied both film and creative writing.
The world fell in love with Jenkins in 2016 with Moonlight, the story of a gay black boy who grows up and comes to terms with his sexuality in the Miami projects, which earned Jenkins an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay and went on to win best picture. He followed that up with If Beale Street Could Talk, the first English-language film adaptation of a James Baldwin novel, which has earned Jenkins yet another Oscar nomination. The movie is set in 1970s Harlem, and it’s about Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) being in love and with child inside a storm of injustice.
I spoke to Jenkins on a recent, extremely rainy day in his office in downtown L.A. (where he also lives). The drizzly ambiance is fitting; in Beale Street, the tender lovemaking scene has a similar rainy backdrop. We talked about Jenkins’ youth in Miami, the way his camera loves his characters, and the music—and musicality—of his films.