Barry Jenkins and the ‘Moonlight’ team backstage at the 2017 Academy Awards

February 27, 2017

by Carla Hay

The 89th Annual Academy Awards took place on February, 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

“MOONLIGHT”

Oscar wins:

Best Picture (for producers Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner)

Best Adapted Screenplay (for Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Best Supporting Actor (for Mahershala Ali)

Here is what these Oscar winners said backstage in the Academy Awards press room.

Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins at the 2017 Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins at the 2017 Academy Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Mike Baker/©A.M.P.A.S.)

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW

What went through your head when “La La Land” was announced the winner of Best Picture, and then just a couple of minutes later it was “Moonlight”?

Barry Jenkins (writer/director): I think all the movies that were nominated were worthy, so I accepted the results. I applauded like everyone else. I noticed the commotion that was happening, and I thought something strange had occurred.  And then I’m sure everybody saw my face. But I was speechless when the result … that was awkward, because I’ve watched the Academy Awards, and I’ve never seen that happen before. And so it made a very special feeling even more special, but not in the way I expected.

“Moonlight” feels a bit life‑changing because it’s such an experience of filmmaking for us as audience members. For you guys, being so involved in the project, what will you remember the most about this life‑changing experience for you?

Jenkins: The last 20 minutes of my life have been insane. I don’t think my life could be changed any more dramatically than what happened in the last 20 or 30 minutes. But I also think, too, working on this film with everyone here, all the cast that is somewhere drinking champagne, I’m sure, it’s just been otherworldly, I will say.

And I never expected so many people to see the film, but even a step further, so many people see themselves in the film. I was in Germany, and this guy stood up and said, “I’m from rural Germany, you know, and 20 minutes into this film, I didn’t see Alex Hibbert. I saw myself.” And that was how I felt in working on it. I had one idea of what I was doing, and then I realized that everyone else was bringing this other thing that was much more beautiful than my idea could ever be. So, yeah, beyond life‑changing.

Given the impact that “Moonlight” has had, do you think that this will help break down barriers for more stories about LGBT people of color?

Tarell Alvin McCraney (writer): The hope that we have today about telling stories is that those people, the ones who we are leaning on to make those stories, were watching and found the platform that they saw they could stand on.  I remember sitting back somewhere watching Dustin Lance Black accept for “Milk,” and thinking, “Maybe one day … me.” And here I am. So if that’s any indication, I hope we are moving in that vein.  I hope the storytellers up here and their proud journey here can imprint on someone out there watching, that they too can stand here too, and also tell their stories as daringly, as intimately as possible.

Jeremy Kleiner (producer): I might just add … because I didn’t get a chance to thank ‑‑ we didn’t get a chance to thank our courageous distributor, A24. This project didn’t really have a lot of comps. It was kind of outside of, like, the modeling of what, you know, a movie should be in terms of return on investment and that. And I think that this outcome for “Moonlight,” independently of tonight, but just the effect it’s had domestically around the world hopefully creates some incentives to make stories like this in all different forms.  So that ‑‑ and that was not far from our minds as well.

This question is for Barry Jenkins. What explanation were you given for the mixup tonight?

Jenkins: No explanation. Things just happen, you know? But I will say I saw two cards.  And so things just happen, you know? I wanted to see the card to see the card. And Warren [Beatty] refused to show the card to anybody before he showed it to me. And so he did. He came upstairs, and he walked over to me, and he showed the card.

Everybody was asking, Can I see the card? And he’s like, “No, Barry Jenkins has to see the card.  I need him to know.” And he showed it to me, and I felt better about what had happened. I will say to all you people, please write this down: The folks from “La La Land” were so gracious. We spent a lot of time together over the last six months, and I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that. I wasn’t speechless because we won. I was speechless because it was so gracious of them to do that.

What did the card say?

Jenkins: The card said, “Best Picture: ‘Moonlight.’ Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski.” But there were two cards.

Did you all have speeches prepared for Best Picture?  And if so, what were you going to say?

Adele Romanski (producer): Yeah, we might have had a couple ideas. But I think the way that what went down, we kind of had to roll with it.  I feel good about what was said.  But I have to admit it was a bit of a fugue state, and I don’t know that I remember it. We didn’t thank people that we probably should have thanked.

Jenkins: Yeah, I absolutely wanted to thank A24 a thousand times because when I first set out to make this film with Adele, there was a budget that we had, and you guys know what the budget is now. It’s 1.5 [million dollars]. The budget we were offered before that was much, much smaller. And without us asking, they increased that budget because they believed in the project. They never told us to alter anything in that process.

So my whole acceptance speech was going to be in thanks to them, because it’s amazing to be Barry Jenkins right now, but it was not a year and a half ago for a guy who made a movie for $13,000 and hadn’t made a movie in seven years at that point. So I was going to give as much love to them as I possibly could with my time on the mic. And it’s unfortunate that things happened the way they did. But hot damn, we won Best Picture.

Barry, for you this has been a long time coming, and it’s been a long journey for you.  Ironically, the stories or the themes told in “La La Land” could apply to you as well. What are your feelings toward Los Angeles and this city and the people in it?

Jenkins: I love L.A.!  How could I not right now? You know, I’ll speak about “La La Land.” When I saw Justin [Horowitz, one of the producers of “La La Land”] at Telluride, I told him that I hadn’t been home in about two months. And I can see my apartment in the background of the opening shot of that film, and I was nostalgic for L.A., which is a crazy feeling for a guy from Miami who’s always had a hard time in L.A.

But you’re right. This is a fulfillment of a lot of things. And I also would have thanked Darnell Martin who gave me my first job in this city. Yeah, she took Chiron and said, Hey, come be my assistant and learn everything I have to teach you. So a lot of things have come full circle right now. This circle was much bigger than I ever could have imagined for myself or for this film.

But it feels good, man, you know. And I guess anything’s possible because most of the voters who voted us Best Picture, they reside here in Los Angeles, and yet they voted a film about a marginalized character from a marginalized community told in a very unorthodox way into Best Picture. And so, God bless L.A.

First off, why do you think that “Moonlight” resonated so deeply with audiences? And secondly, how do you think that winning this Oscar is going to change your life or your career?

Jenkins: I mean, my career, that part’s pretty clear. You know, I write an e‑mail, somebody’s going to reply at this point. Or I make a phone call, somebody is going to call back. So that part is cool.

But why this film? You know, I can’t say. I kind of took it off the table when we came to making this. I mean, Tarell put so much truth in what he wrote in the piece “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” I try to take truth and manifest it on screen. And the only thing I can speak to is that whatever authenticity, whatever fire this guy had in his belly, people saw it, and they reflected the same fire in their belly.

McCraney: Barry does this often where he deflects the fact that, you know, sure, I may have brought my truth to the table in the original script. However, what Barry continued to do when he rewrote the script and when he started shooting, when he started casting, when he was working with those actors, was continue to see himself in those moments, those intimate moments. And everybody can relate to that, because we all know that moment that we felt awkward, because Barry found the moment he was awkward, and he put it on screen.

And so for me, that’s the lightning rod that keeps bringing people back.  We’re putting our true feelings, our true selves there.  And this man did it, you know, in 25 days with a cast and crew who was in and out in Miami in the dreaded heat, but we did that with love and compassion and fullness.  I think that’s what keeps bringing people back to the cinema.

Barry Jenkins, Janelle Monáe and the ‘Moonlight’ team backstage at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards

January 9, 2017

by Carla Hay

The 74th annual Golden Globe Awards took place on January 8, 2017, at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California.

“MOONLIGHT”

Golden Globe win:

  • Best Motion Picture – Drama

Here is what these Golden Globe winners said backstage in the Golden Globe Awards press room.

"Moonlight" team at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards
“Moonlight” team at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on January 8, 2017. (Photo by Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW

What did it mean to you to be able to show Miami on screen?

Barry Jenkins (writer/director): It meant the world to me. You know, the whole the whole point of this film for Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright, and I was to tell a very truthful story about how we grew up. And so are going to Miami to make the film because this story I think not that is universally I think is very specific, to be honest, but we could have told the story in New Orleans you could’ve told in Atlanta, Georgia, where our budget would have gone much farther than did in Florida where there’s no tax incentives.

But Tarell and I are both from Miami, so the city—kind of cliché to say it—it was a character, but it really was a character in this film and whenever people see this movie I feel like they come to Miami. They sit down with us the experience what it’s like to grow up there. And then to have all these journalists from all over the world have taken this trip to Miami and award the film is proof positive that we did the right thing by sticking to our guns and shooting in Miami.

Janelle, this film deals with one of the toughest things that some people go through in this country on being young especially African-American coming out. Can you talk about performing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in place of Kim Burrell, whose performance was cancelled after her anti-gay speech?

Janelle Monáe: I’m pro-love. I’ve been very supportive of love. And at the end of the day, I think that no matter where you come from and who you love, you deserve to have a right to the American Dream and to also have your story told. So I’m so thankful to be part of this true American story.

I’m thankful to be a part of a cast and a director who is pro-inclusion. And I just think that anybody who is representing hate is a part of the problem and I hope we can learn from each other and be more empathetic of one another and I hope that we can all remember the end of the day we all bleed the same color.

Why do you think people are responding “Moonlight” the way they are?

Jenkins: For me, I’m all about process and the process of making this film going back to day one on set … was about making universal film. It was about getting it right and being very specific to where we were with what the actors were giving us on the day and trying to speak truth to power in that.

And so I think in doing that I think the movie touches people because they see the authenticity that we put into it we were trying to do anything but tell our story. I think people respect that because often you try to tell a story that you believe someone is going to be willing to pay to hear. That was not our goal.

Our goal was to just speak truth as to Tarell’s experience and my experience they can doing that you can go to Katmandu or I can say I’ve been to London or Rome or Toronto will Telluride, these places so far removed, or the HFPA, the Philippines, to Russia all these different places and people respect the fact that oh no I’m not trying to make a story that relates to you in your place here right now. I think we need more that as we move into the next four years of life on this planet.

Barry, you dedicated this award to your mother. Has she seen “Moonlight” yet?

Jenkins: I think she wants to watch it on the small screen, which as a filmmaker, like no, you see it in the theater as big as possible but I think she wants to make her peace with it, woman to screen. I think she wants to engage the story on one level not in a room like this with a bunch of—I’d say for her—strangers. I do think we’ve been talking a lot more and the conversation has accelerated. I will say Naomi has given all these interviews, every interview she gives my mom watches and it.

And she has seen I think the care and thoughtfulness that they will be put into betraying her and I do think she’s getting you know I can’t rush her bit-by-bit, but she’s a step closer to I think sitting down and watching and some version you know myself and Tarell’s depiction of herself.

Do you think movies can change things socially?

Jenkins: I see what you’re saying, but … people have seen this film three times, four times, not as escapism but for realism. They want to go to the cinema and see something real reflected in all these films. No one could have anticipated that we would be sitting on the president-elect that we have coming into office in the next 12, 13 days. However, we all made these films because we felt something was lacking in the soil at the root these stories that hadn’t been told.

I don’t know if it was that these two things are coming together at the same time but we’re here now you know and we have to keep telling these stories very truthfully and honestly. And we have to give people things not to escape to this room for escapism but things they can run to reaffirm that not that all lives matter, I don’t want to step into that, but that you know what if you’re feeling something that you want to speak it? You speak it and someone there will be there to hear your truth. And I think that’s been the spirit of “Moonlight” so far.

To the actors, how specifically did you acted against each other especially in the three different acts and how each relationship was different moving forward to the story?

Mahershala Ali (co-star): Let me just say that one thing that we didn’t do was act against each other we always acted with each other. And this is the greatest joy my career.

Ashton Sanders (co-star): I agree.

Trevante Rhodes (co-star): Yeah, it was really just about sharing the moment issue in the space with beautiful people and being able to listen and react. That’s all it was and just understanding situation and understand who the person was. And trusting this man right here [he points to Jenkins].

Ashton and Trevante, you weren’t allowed to see each other during filming “Moonlight.” How important was that for the overall effect and were you surprised actually to find continuation within the characters when you saw them on screen?

Rhodes: I think it was very important because me personally I would have done any and everything I could to try and at least a little bit mimic what the younger versions were going to try and force some similarity within myself. And I think just not having to focus on that and again trusting Barry, trusting the script, trusting my idea who the person was the most important thing and allowing me to be free and to just embody the character and just leave it at that. That’s where I’m at.

Sanders: Just to back up what Travonte was saying, I think it allowed us to focus on our sections and our circumstances within our sections. Chiron is a different person having three parts of the film, so it allowed us to again focus on our circumstances and to tap into that time period of Chiron.

Can tell us how difficult it was to find the producers for “Moonlight” and how many countries has the movie been sold?

Jenkins: A24 sold the movie to—and I’ll say ballpark—20 territories internationally, which is amazing for a film set in this world featuring these characters. I will say the myth has been propagated about what a film with a cast that looks like this in a story that’s set in this world where it can show where people come out and see it. This movie has defied—I won’t say expectations—but I think those perceptions.

I made a movie in 2008 called “Medicine for Melancholy”— a very small film, $15,000 budget. And the good folks at Plan B saw that film. We started talking; nothing came of it. I think I wasn’t ready at that point. And when I had the screenplay for “Moonlight” with my first producer, Adele Romanski, who I went to film school with, the cinematographer and both editors also went to film school with me at Florida State University, we sent the script to Plan B, and they read it and immediately they said that they wanted to get involved. They had seen the first film and thought, “What can this guy  do? Look at what these people do with a larger canvas.”

And then from Plan B, they take it to A24. A24 at that point only distributed films, not finance them, but they believed in our voice so much—I’ll say Tarell’s and my voice—that they literally opened a new lane, as the kids say. And they are in their business to finance the film. It was the first film financed by A24. From there it was just like an open door. It was like, “This is the budget here and the parameters. Go out and make the film you want to make.” It was a beautiful process.

They allowed me to do the things I wanted to do. And yet they asked questions and those questions always led to answers, but they allowed me to decide when the answer has been reached. So it was a beautiful process. I feel very fortunate very privileged to have made this film with Plan B, A24 and Adele Romanski. Thank you very much. Much love to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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