Barry Jenkins, Slavery

Barry Jenkins: ‘Maybe America has never been great’

Barry Jenkins: ‘Maybe America has never been great’

5/9/2021 11:53:00 PM
Barry Jenkins, Slavery, Television, Film, Black Lives Matter Movement, Colson Whitehead, Race, Moonlight, Television & Radio

Barry Jenkins : ‘Maybe America has never been great’

The Moonlight director on how adapting Colson Whitehead ’s The Underground Railroad for TV compelled him to fully confront the history of slavery, as well as his own damaged childhood

: “There were seven or eight of us in a two-bed apartment. There was usually food but sometimes not. The lights usually worked, but sometimes not.”Jenkins with Moonlight co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney at the 2017 Oscars, with their awards for best adapted screenplay and best picture. Mahershala Ali also picked up an award for best supporting actor.

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Photograph: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagicIf Jenkins was unsure how to confront these issues on film, McCraney’s play provided him with the answer, a story close to his own, but not his own. There was a further twist to the tale when the director, struggling to raise finance, was invited at the last minute to chair a Q&A after a screening of

with its director, Steve McQueen, and co-producer, Brad Pitt. When afterwards Pitt asked in passing what Jenkins was working on, he seized the moment to sell the idea ofMoonlightto Pitt’s production company, Plan B.Jenkins’s initial route out of his damaged childhood in Liberty City had been as an American footballer – playing on an unbeatable high school team alongside seven future NFL players. This helped him to an academic scholarship at Florida State University, where he eventually found a home at the film school. He plays down his prowess as an athlete, but talking to him you have a sense of exactly the kind of player he might have been – high energy, quietly, irrepressibly determined, breaking through tacklers twice his size.

My personal familial history is very complicated. I have no idea who my ‘real’ father is. And my mom was a runawayLooking back, he doesn’t disagree that both fortune and fortitude played equal roles in his story. I wonder, given the deeper history that his series addresses, if he has been moved to fill in more of the gaps in his own family’s backstory?

He says not; though he has toyed with the idea of pursuing genealogy or trying to get a DNA analysis, he is not sure how far it would get him. “My personal familial history is very complicated,” he says. “I have no idea who my ‘real’ father is. And my mom was, to some degree, a runaway. She had a very rough life as a child growing up in South Carolina, and then migrated down to Miami.” As he made the series he fully realised that such fracturing was a common thread in the lives of

The Underground Railroad. “Going back,” he says, “it was very much systematically part of the process that if [an enslaved woman] gave birth to a child, the child will be taken away from her.”I have never seen a portrayal of that history that brings home so forcefully the horrible truth that babies of enslaved women were considered the property of plantation owners from birth. That fact is set alongside other depictions of the full brutality of that system. The first episode of the series contains some of the most graphic punishment and torture, including a scene in which a man, Big Anthony, who attempts to escape the plantation, is hung up by his wrists and flayed and burned.

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018).Photograph: Annapurna Pictures/AllstarJenkins was surprised, he says, of the extent to which the retelling of that history affected him. “There’s no blood, there’s no fire on set,” he says. “And yet, we were on an actual plantation in Georgia. And as we’re recreating some of these moments, this feeling seeps into your body that things like this happened here. And even worse things. There was an ethical component to filming those scenes that isn’t normally a part of the process.”

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There was a full-time therapist on the set, on hand to help any member of cast or crew who found it hard to process the depicted trauma. “Quite a few people spoke to her,” Jenkins says. Before the most horrific scene, the actor who plays the psychopathic plantation owner Terrance Randall [name TK] paused, and he took out his phone. “He said, ‘Do you mind if I just call my kids in London and tuck them in? Before we start this?’ And the production assistant who’s sitting next to him is like, ‘Nope, sorry, sorry, but we have to get going.’ I went up and said, ‘Let him call his kids.’ So that he can reaffirm that he is a good person and is not this person.”

Often, he says, they would start out by asking what is the least voyeuristic version of the scene for the audience? He often recalled something thatJean-Luc Godardonce said in depicting the Holocaust: that the true horror was brought home not by the gas chambers but by watching their operators go home afterwards and sit at the dining table and ask their children what kind of day they’d had. Jenkins made sure, for example, there’s not a single moment where you see a whip contacting flesh. “The sound is enough.” He captures some of the worst horrors in the faces of witnesses to the torture. Even so, after he called cut on the scene with Big Anthony, he says, “For the first time in my career, I just walked off set without telling anyone where I was going.” After a little while collecting his thoughts, he returned and they continued the work.

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight.Photograph: David Bornfriend/Allstar/Plan B EntertainmentI wonder how much he was aware of the daily noise of Trump’s America invading the set?“Because we were in the state of Georgia, which Trump won in the 2016 election, it was red caps all around, you know. It was hard to avoid. We had to shut down because of Covid on 12 March, then we didn’t go back for the last four days of production until late September. So much happened in the world between March and September. And going back to production for those last four days, going back to the state of Georgia, that was intense.”

Read more: The Guardian »

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I couldn´t agree more! American history is too short to be great. But anyway, US was great, as a Chinese, we know 100 years ago US was good to help China build colleges and educationed a lot of elites. The greatness reach peak during WW2, she funded China to fight against Japan and help recover of EU.

Ill help you pack. Uh this is the whole joke behind TheDailyShow interviewing MAGA cultists before and during the 2016 election and asking what was great about America before. Hilarious and apparently news worthy. No, it has You haven't Anyone who doesn't like America's founding principles is free to leave.

greatness is like happiness: it does not last. Fragments of them exist only. Early on, America aspired to greatness. But it became a capitalist country, rather than a people's representative democracy. He stole my take! Compared to which country that you think is great? America is unlike any other nation in history, full of different ethnicities and religions. It's more open, more accepting than any other nation. If we just kept our focus on liberty and equality under the law, we'd be great.

America is great at starting wars in the Middle East, supporting dictators and supporting a terrorist state:Isreal

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Maybe if you place your expectations far enough outside of reality you can be disappointed in anything. A distinct possibility no the USA has never been great. It started with genocide on american indigenous peoples and since then it has been global terror extortion espionage warcrimes and constant domestic terror and violations of human rights -the USA is a rogue and failed nation

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