An Open Letter to Barry Jenkins – One of SF’s Unknown Heroes
Mr. Barry Jenkins,
One day, several years ago, I found myself on Twitter following a discussion about Indy Black film and the title that popped up a couple times and mentioned by the more hip of the Twitter tastemakers, Medicine for Melancholy. I love that title. I was interested and it was the only title I recall taking note of. Later, I do a quick internet search and aside from the many great reviews and award recognition I read about my beloved San Francisco being a focal point of the film. Enough said. I order. I watch. I’m enthralled. I’m teary eyed. I absolutely love it. I felt like Micah. I feel like I am Micah. Then I think “Who created this? Who formed all my feelings so perfectly?” This is where we meet Mr. Jenkins.
I read every article, watched every YouTube clip interview and Q&A that arrived in my search results and just when my friends said I talked about San Francisco in a way they didn’t understand, here I find you. I read about how you made the movie. The small budget, the gorilla shooting, housing Wyatt in a house belonging to a friend for whom you were house sitting, about creating lenses, and creating that lovely muted color palette. I found great joy in your story of moving to San Francisco chasing love – because, yes, journey, self-discovery, connection, belonging, and love existed here not too long ago. I tell people that it isn’t about just being from here, but being apart of this incredible city, wanting to contribute to it, and allowing the city to be a part of you for however long you stay. You told someone that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities. You said that other cities may be beautiful because of the people, but if you removed all the people from San Francisco it’d still be breathtaking because of its topography and landscape, the hills, the vistas, being situated between both Ocean and Forest. He gets it.
From that same internet search I found your remarkable short film Remigration. Your vision of a future San Francisco was exact and honest. Your use of quite space and emotion is delicate and masterful. I really connected to Kaya’s not quite anger, but heartbreak, disbelief, and distrust. Through him we were able to really feel how leaving a city you’re from, a city you deeply love, either by force of law or market, can really empty a person emotionally – can really change you as a person. I’ve felt like Kaya. I feel like I am Kaya.
To hear these stories about San Francisco done so beautifully, so honestly set in reality – to hear it coming from a Black man filled me with happiness. Now, that isn’t to reduce art to blackness in some form of niche or separating as an ‘other’, but the opposite. It reflects our story, yes, but it shows that this is OUR story also. That we, too, are San Francisco. Your work fills me with happiness because when we discuss San Francisco and her champions and torch bearers we rarely see our black faces. Black people in San Francisco have been told to leave since they arrived and from urban renewal (read: Negro removal) to gentrification, nobody else cried for us – lamented our extinction. We’ve been seen as just a rough neighborhood, maybe a few seconds of jazz as fleeting pageantry and just as a people who merely existed and happened. But, Mr. Jenkins, you gave our story and experience a heartbeat, a pulse, a skin of purple and copper and gold marbled onyx, a sweeping cursive with the deepest of inks. It makes me feel like maybe we won’t be completely forgotten. Even as a ghost echoing trumpet vibrating fog of a Fillmore evening, we were here full and brilliant. I want to thank you for that. In you, my brotha, I am deeply proud.
With sincerest respect,
Barry Jenkins newest project, the most critically acclaimed film this year Moonlight is showing in San Francisco this weekend before its national release November 4th. It’s been given the highest praise and review from every publication. A story exploring youth, sexuality, masculinity, identity, and finding your place in the world. I urge everyone to check it out.