Date of Birth: November 19, 1979
Barry Jenkins made a few stops along the way on his journey to filmmaking, but having solidified his presence in the industry with the poignant drama Moonlight, the landscape of cinema is more diverse because of him.
Barry grew up in a Miami ghetto under the eye of his mother, whom, as he told Deadline in December 2016, was addicted to crack. Always a football fan, he played throughout his years at Miami Northern Senior High School. He eventually enrolled in Florida State's film school, but not before majoring in English writing and creative writing. Due to his changes in specialization, it took Barry five-and-a-half years to graduate.
The director's first film was the 2003 short My Josephine. Running nine minutes in length, it's loosely inspired by the Asian and New Wave films he watched throughout his time at Florida State. Barry also wrote the project.
In the same year, he also wrote and directed an eight-minute short titled Little Brown Boy.
He wrote and directed his first feature film in 2008, called Medicine for Melancholy, which profiles two young San Franciscans. Produced on a budget of only $15,000, it grossed over $100,000 in just four months. The drama earned three Independent Spirit Award nominations and nods from the Chicago International Film Festival Awards, the Gotham Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Festival Awards.
The following year, Barry wrote and directed two shorts — the 13-minute A Young Couple and the seven-minute Tall Enough.
In 2011, he wrote and directed Chlorophyl, a 20-minute short about a young Latina struggling with loneliness and heartbreak in Miami.
Barry spent the next five years pulling together the means to create the critically acclaimed 2016 coming-of-age drama Moonlight. The film is centered on the life of a young black man in south Florida struggling to come to grips with his sexuality. The superb cast includes Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes and André Holland. Executive produced by Brad Pitt, it was nominated for several awards and won numerous prizes.
Barry, who directed Moonlight and co-wrote it with Tarell Alvin McCraney (whose play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is the basis of the film), described the movie and its place in cinema through a 2013 slideshow presentation designed to raise funds for it. He wrote, as Indiewire points to in an October 2016 interview with Barry, "[Moonlight is] a story that hasn't been told. Whether placed as queer black cinema or urban male cinema, the lack of coming of age films featuring people like Chiron and set in places like inner-city Miami is pronounced and unfortunate. While it would be glib to say this lack makes the film an inherently important story to tell, it would be factual to frame it thusly: people like our characters exist."
He revealed to Vulture in October 2016 that he was initially hesitant to tackle the project due to its gay themes and his heterosexual orientation. Barry said, "I had some trepidation about it at the beginning, only because I think there are some stories that can only be told from a first-person perspective. I hadn't lived this aspect of the character's identity, but at the same time, I had so many other things in common with Chiron that I thought, 'If there's ever going to be a space where I can truly empathize with a character who has a core aspect of his identity that I don't share, it's going to be this case.'"
He also laughed as he admitted to Vulture in the same interview that viewers often assume he's gay because of Moonlight. He said it happens "all the time."
His work in Moonlight earned him several nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay, including nominations from the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and the BAFTA Awards.
Barry's next efforts include directing an episode of the upcoming comedy series Dear White People and the feature film A Contract with God. He'll share credit on the film with co-directors Tze Chun and Alex Rivera.
A former employee of Banana Republic, Barry has also worked for Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films. His Florida State film school peers include Wes Ball (of the Maze Runner films) and Amy Seimetz (Sun Don't Shine).
A Contract with God
Medicine for Melancholy (2008)