Dear White People S1E5

Do you think your schedule will allow you to come back direct another episode of Dear White People?

I want to, man! Justin and I were talking about that. I feel so damn bad that I’ve not been able to get back. We did that, there was a ten day window I had during Moonlight awards season, ten days off, and they carved it out for me, my publicist and everyone who’s amazing. They carved it out and I went and did the episode, and I was so damn glad I did. I think filmmaking is this muscle that you have to continuously exercise. And when you’re doing this thing [gestures to us], talking about work, whether the work is good or bad, so far it seems like people think the work is good, it can kind of get inside your head a bit. It was nice to be on set and have this huge problem, which is, “I don’t know these characters. I don’t know this world. How do I make it mine?” And through the voice of Justin Simien, you are correct: we were able to somehow end up doing the same thing. That party starts off like, “Hey!” just cracking jokes, and by the end of it, it’s like, wow. Wow. I forgot about that episode. Thank you for the reminder.

No problem! You were talking about TV a little bit, and I know you’re working with Amazon on The Underground Railroad. Do you think that your experience on Dear White People – the scale and scope of TV is so much faster than film. Did that –

It did. Undoubtedly. It gave me more confidence to go into making Underground Railroad, not necessarily with Amazon, but just making it, period. Much more confidence. Justin was really good about inviting me into the process. So when he was doing the writers’ room, I had no input on the script, but I would check in with him and he would let me know how it was going. And then once we got there to make the [episode], all of it was physically together in the same space. They were writing and editing and filming, and all those things was a lovely crash course. I’m really glad you brought that up, because this happened even before Moonlight, and I don’t know that I would have gotten a chance to direct television in a pre-Moonlight world had it not been for Justin Simien, so hats off to him. I was also in the writers’ room on The Leftovers, so all these experiences I think gave me the confidence to go down the road. Because The Underground Railroad is a really, really big undertaking. The biggest thing I’ve ever done. But I do have experience to fall back on that’s helped me through the process.

I know that you just got a development deal with Amazon that was announced recently as well. Can you tell me about any of the new projects you’re developing there?

Yeah. I can’t tell you about projects specifically, but I think the process of working on Underground, which we’ve been working with them, we had a writers’ room for the show right before going into production on Beale Street, has been so wonderful and fluid. It’s like, “Well, we’re going to be here making this thing. Why don’t we make more things together?” And what I love about that deal is, it’s not a Barry Jenkins deal. It’s a deal with Pastel. So myself, Adele Romanski, Mark Ceryak, and Sara Murphy, my partners in the company, we’re not just here to make Barry Jenkins work. We’re trying to bring all these voices that either have a Moonlight in them, a True Detective in them, whatever it is, but don’t have access to the tools that Amazon provides. We’re hoping to usher new voices into this realm alongside mine.

Beale Street yell

Very cool. I think have time for one more question, and I’m going to end on a weird one. I’m going to leave this entirely up to your interpretation: if you had to choose the most “Barry Jenkins” moment from Beale Street, what would it be and why?

I know that one. [Has instant realization] Aw, shit! I’m going to give two.

It would either be when Regina King as Sharon arrives in Puerto Rico and she’s looking at her reflection in the mirror and to decide who she’s going to be. To me, this idea of identity, this idea of placing on a false strength or the projection of strength to protect others around you, and those things coming undone, I just love the simplicity of it. Again, it’s not literature, it’s not theater, it’s cinema. Regina lands in Puerto Rico, there’s not a single word for four minutes. Not a single word. Yet you understand everything that character is feeling. It’s very well-known that I worship [French director] Claire Denis, and that, to me, is me as a student of Claire Denis really utilizing cinema, which is not literature and not theater, and really taking the actor, full bodied, and presenting them in a way that gets at a metaphor that I couldn’t get to with words.

The other one is so fucking super melodramatic and lush and saturated, but not in the book. After Tish and Fonny get the apartment, they have this conversation with the Dave Franco character Levy, they’re walking down the street and they just yell to the sky. That, to me, is peak gooey, sentimental, soft Barry Jenkins, which is an impulse I try to reject. But I think people need to – especially young black people – need to be able to unleash joy in an unbridled way, and that moment for me is my favorite moment in the film. Because I want that for those characters so badly. So badly. And Stephan and KiKi [Layne] are so committed to it. When you grow up as a child and you understand what relationships are, families, you’re watching The Brady Bunch, that moment – what they do in that scene – is kind of like the embodiment of it. It’s something that’s not in the novel and I felt like it had to be in the film, and it’s not my best impulses, but fuck it. I just love it.

And that’s also one of the most heartbreaking moments in the movie. Fonny says, “We’ve got all the time in the world,” and you know that’s not true.

He also says “Are you ready for this?” which is a mirror. In the opening scene, she asks him, “Are you ready for this?” “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my life,” he says. And then, because the whole movie is framed through her consciousness, he asks her, “Are you ready for this?” and she says, “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my whole life.” But are they ready? Are they ready? How could anybody fucking be? Is Regina ready to go to Puerto Rico? No! But she has to go, and these kids have to live their lives.

***

If Beale Street Could Talk opens in Los Angeles and New York on December 14, 2018 and hits theaters nationwide on December 25, 2018.

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