As kids, they had for a time attended the same elementary school. He never hit a bully with a chair, he said, but “I did snap.”Parts of the movie clearly tell Mr. McCraney’s story. James Baldwin once wrote: “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. Then Mr. Jenkins stepped onto the patchy grass of the courtyard that sits between a grouping of desperate-looking buildings, low-slung and austere, the type of stingy architecture we’ve come to equate with housing for the poor. Moonlight is the second film of Barry Jenkins (b 1979) after Medicine for Melancholy (2013). They frequented the same mini mart where Mr. Jenkins would be sent to buy Benson & Hedges menthols for the woman he called Grandma.“Very, very slowly certain areas of the neighborhood began to be off limits,” Mr. Jenkins said. For Mr. Jenkins, it is all the things he won’t say.Mr. Everybody is going to come in with the time Dad took them pony riding,’” he said, mock rolling his eyes.This connection to, this understanding of, Liberty City is clear in each frame of the movie, in the way that the characters subtly rebuke every stereotype we’ve seen of the crack-addicted black mother and the drug-dealing black man.They would be exceptional no matter where they grew up. Mr. McCraney recalls an assignment in college where students were asked to write a monologue about their happiest childhood experience.Directing “Moonlight,” Mr. Jenkins said, “was very visceral, like working an open wound.”So much depends on luck and timing.
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney led parallel lives in the same poor Miami neighborhood. She’s the arachnoid space-age musician but she’s from this very small rough place in the Midwest and so she understood who the character was. “She beat all these things, and she couldn’t beat this. Blue was Mr. McCraney’s defender, the person who made sure he had nice clothes, kept the boy’s mother from spanking him and taught him to make salmon croquettes.
She is embodying the same character across three chapters and I think she’s the foundation of the piece.Tarell in the source material has written two scenes. It was their universe.Yet their childhood experiences were so similar, their lives so parallel, that you could mix up many facts of their biographies and they’d still be true.It is an impossible calculation.Mr. McCraney did what he’d always done to process his pain. With the character of Black I do think it’s a front. And the beauty in that is that when I create these characters when I’m on set, I’m not judging them either.”Yet their family members, including their mothers, pushed school and a love of reading; their neighbors and educators fought for them and encouraged their talents. The character Juan is based on a real person. It was poor and disregarded, yet full of little joys. There was the swimming lesson and there was learning how to ride a bike. Why did they get out, when so many did not?We paused then, and quietly, slowly, looked around. “I was wrong.”“I was like: ‘O.K., great. “We had conversations similar to that,” he said, “but there was never a moment where she could see how broken I was.”The movie, at its heart, Mr. Jenkins said, is about how the relationship between a mother and son is fractured, and almost ruined, because of the crack epidemic, and the scenes between Chiron and his mother are excruciating for the men to watch.And then, as is the history of this country, Liberty City was sabotaged by racist urban renewal policy and official neglect. Like Mr. McCraney’s mother, she had been sexually abused, and she had gotten pregnant as a teenager, but she still went on to find work as a nurse’s aide and raise her older children before succumbing to addiction. Why are you forcing me to romanticise you? McCraney recalls when the amphitheater was no longer a place of dance parties, but of vials cracking under your feet. And then two, you begin to feel in some ways invisible, because there are other people all over the world who are watching these screens and if they don’t see you on it they then start to believe you don’t exist.With both of them it was about having a presence that felt true. I told them I want them to be three different people and yet the same thing has to be charging throughout each chapter.No no. They are unusual only in that their representation is so seldom fully rendered in film.The artists hold closely idyllic memories of Liberty City before crack. But he is also the young Chiron’s father figure and mentor. He stopped, raised his arms and spread them wide.“I do know the dope boy on the corner sometimes goes out and gets bread for the family that doesn’t have it, and equally there are boys on the corner who aren’t selling dope who do terrible things to the community, too,” Mr. McCraney said. “We sort of found a narrative that allowed us to still have an imagination and grow within that atmosphere, which I found and still find incredibly inspiring.” I was embarrassed because it felt like again me putting on exhibition for mostly white privileged people a world they had never seen.”Both men were born to mothers who had their first children when they were teenagers. They were amazed at how alike they were in personality.
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