Barry Jenkins has forever changed cinema and, through his work, has shown the urgency to tell black stories. In Moonlight, he elevates the beauty of melanin and rips open the workings of identity within black communities. In If Beale Street Could talk, he creates a posthumous conversation with James Baldwin and reminds us that his works speak louder now than ever before. Jenkins crafts worlds that audiences feel blessed to bear witness to.
The industry has always been racist- Moonlight makes this fact unmissable. Jenkins elevates and illuminates the beauty of black skin in the imagery of the film. In doing so, he accentuates Hollywood's historic failure to do so. In testing for lighting and clarity, crews tested against "Shirley cards." These cards only included white skin tones and entirely disregarded how black actors would come across on screen. This inherently racist process resulted in actors of color coming across as fuzzy and unfocused on screen. Moonlight shows the magic that can happen when you have individuals of color in the room- in the make-up department, in the crew and the cast. Jenkins proves with the success of Moonlight that when people have the chance to tell their story, the world will really listen.
Besides the film's jaw-on-the-floor dream-like imagery, the relationships established and developed between characters play a large part in the film's brilliance. Many formative relationships are the spine in the development of Moonlight; Chiron and Juan, Chiron and his mother, and Chiron and Kevin Each relationship gives viewers an entry point to wrestle with the messy and uncertain parts of life. In each relationship, we see Jenkins challenge definitions of masculinity, home, love and intimacy, and identity within the black community. And in turn, it allows us to consider how our own relationships have influenced our definitions of the same.
Jenkin's 2018 follow-up, If Beale Street Could Talk, makes us want to wander down proverbial Beale Street forever. While the film takes place in Harlem, we can find the heart of it on Beale Street, where "every black person born in America was born." The film sweetly undulates, like honey, to tell Fonny and Tish's love story and to unravel Fonny's wrongful conviction. The warm jazz croonings and Tish's narration guides viewers between past and present and poeticizes their small slice of life on Beale Street. Jenkins, with the help of James Baldwin's legacy, makes art out of their pain, just as Fonny whittles art out of slabs of wood. Jenkins makes art from the pain of two young lovers kept apart and from the joy of two best friends who find lovers in one another.