Barry Jenkins’ career as a director has taken him all across the map. Working side jobs, to directing some of the most poignant films of all time like Moonlight, Jenkins is a reminder that we all take different paths to get to where we want to be. He is one of the most well-known directors in Hollywood, an especially impressive feat being that he is a Black director.
With Academy Award-winning Moonlight under his belt, followed up by If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins has shown himself to be one of the most prestigious directors working, capable of capturing and inspiring a level of emotion that is felt few and far between in the cinematic world.
But Jenkins’ success was not foretold in the stars. Especially as a Black director, his path was not clear, nor was his position promised. Rather it is the result of hard work and perseverance. To get to the point where he is now, Jenkins’ journey took him across many different hills and valleys.
The beginnings of Barry Jenkins, as we know him
Jenkins’ film career began at Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts in 2003, where he was awarded a scholarship for disadvantaged kids.
As Jenkins tells the story, he initially planned on being a teacher. But after the course folded, he noticed a sign that promoted a film course. Jenkins figured that he should check it out since he loved movies.
Here Jenkins shared courses with other talented directors like Wes Ball and David Robert Mitchell. He quickly saw that his classmates were inspired by the same filmmakers, so Jenkins began to look at foreign films and realized that he could make similar work.
This led to his first short film, My Josephine. This short was about a real Arab-American laundromat that cleaned American flags after 9/11. When he finished film school, Jenkins went on to work in Oprah’s production company.
A break from film
Barry Jenkins then went to LA where he says he checked out of filmmaking for a while. He began a job unloading boxes for Banana Republic, which he calls the best job he ever had. He dropped his film Medicine For Melancholy in 2008, which won awards.
The next eight years went on without any films being created by Jenkins. That time saw him work various different jobs. He worked as a writer for HBO’s Leftovers and co-founded an advertising company. He even worked as a carpenter at one point.
Barry Jenkins’ time away from film is a reminder that this life is a marathon, not a sprint. Success and worth is not judged in the moment, but by the legacy left.
Barry Jenkins’ return to film with a bang
In 2016 Jenkins dropped his Oscar award-winning film, Moonlight.
2017’s Best Picture winner is one of the most powerful films to release in recent memory. The film is a coming-of-age story about a Black boy who explores his sexuality among other things. In a white world, Jenkins’ prowess as a Black director helped shine the light on the beauty of Moonlight‘s world.
Jenkins followed up Moonlight with If Beale Street Could Talk in 2018. The film also won several awards. It has helped to solidify Jenkins as one of the best directors in the film industry right now. His most recent work is the Amazon series The Underground Railroad.
Jenkins’ story is one of struggle and persistence. His filmmaking journey as a Black director is one that took many different twists and turns, but his talent for showing audiences the importance of underrepresented stories is what makes him special.