One of the most difficult questions to answer when making a film, particularly about a subject or topic that seems foreign, is “How do I make this story and character authentic?” Writers (at least good writers) struggle with this question all the time. It’s a very fine line between real and phony.
The Business, a podcast series hosted by Kim Masters for KCRW Radio, brushed on this topic when interviewing the filmmakers of Moonlight: writer/director Barry Jenkins and producer Adele Romanski. Moonlight is a story of a young, black, gay man searching for identity in Miami, Florida. Barry explains how he was able to create such a gripping and honest character, even though, as a straight man, he has never had the experience of being a homosexual in a straight world.
Barry’s Moonlight was heavily inspired by a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney several years earlier. Barry’s secret to keeping Moonlight genuine was Tarell’s play. Tarell, being a homosexual, provided Barry the voice that was needed to tell an authentic and daring tale about a black, homosexual boy struggling through adolescence. Barry also took from his own personal experiences of growing up in Miami. By combining his stories with Tarell’s spirit, he was able to create a brilliant and daring work of art.
Moonlight has grabbed the attention of the film industry. It took Best Picture at Golden Globes, and it is nominated for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. Barry was stunned and surprised that such an avant-garde subject was received so well by so many people.
Artists must challenge themselves and venture into unknown territory before they write about an unfamiliar subject. Great filmmakers will meet different people and explore a multitude of paradigms before embarking on a mission to tell a remarkable story. Barry Jenkins did just that with Moonlight, and he has received much critical acclaim as a result.