A Chat with Barry Jenkins (click here for part one)
I noticed you acted a little in your short films.
But never a featured role. I’m in the background, and I help
out on other people’s films sometimes, but not on camera.
Micah says he’s “the number two aquarium guy in the city.”
Have you ever been “the number two guy” in anything?
I feel like I’m always the number two guy. I don’t
ever think I’m the number one guy. [laughs]
I liked that line, I don’t know why.
You know, that actually comes—a lot of the things in the movie are taken
either from my life or the lives of my friends. The apartment we shot in, Mic-
ah's apartment, belonged to a friend of mine and her boyfriend is the number
two aquarium guy in the area, and I didn't want to move his aquariums out
of there, and thought it was a really interesting job, so I gave it to Micah.
I like the montage where he talks about aquariums, so
it isn't the only one you end up seeing in the movie.
And you know what, that's—we're jumping all over the place in this interview.
I like that. I kind of hope for that.
Wyatt is a really dedicated performer and that monologue in the screenplay was-
n't meant to cut away to montage. What Wyatt did is, we brought him to San Fran-
cisco for the part, and he just started wandering around on his days off, looking for aquarium stores and that was one he stumbled into, and he asked the guy, "Hey, can we shoot here?" And the guy was like, "Yeah sure, no problem," and we couldn't work it into the schedule—we were on a really, really tight schedule—but on the last day when we were taking Wyatt to the airport, we pulled over to the side of the road, took the camera out, ran inside the store, and got those shots in about five minutes.
Without a permit?
Oh yeah. This entire movie is permit-free, except for one sequence.
I was wondering about that. I noticed more scenes than I'm used to seeing in a lower-budget film where you're in a big city, and there are a lot of people around, but for obvious reasons, you don't [usually] see that much. You see more interiors.
That was interesting. I was watching the people—I can't help doing that—to see if they were looking at the camera or not, and you seemed to get both. Some people were just doing their thing, while a few faces started to move [towards the camer-
a], but it never became self-conscious enough to draw me away from the movie.
Even in the one sequence where we got permits, we couldn't lock anything up. We were literally a four-person crew, us and the two actors. We just used really long
lenses, and if people were looking at them, they were looking in the camera.
I'm assuming it was a pretty small camera?
Yeah, it was pretty small.
That's the advantage you now have over directors in the '70s who were making
films on the street and trying to get naturalism while holding huge cameras.
Wassup Rockers (2005)
This is a question I hate to ask, because I'm of two minds about it, but I have
to go there. I liked the article, but it spawned a horrible word. So Micah talks
about being a minority at indie rock shows. Has that been your experience?
Yeah, of course.
Did you read that New York Times article about "blipsters"?
[Blipster = a black hipster.]
I'm on a list for women who write about music, and everyone has been talking about it, and no matter what their racial background, they thought it was horrible. The sad thing is, it isn't a horrible article, and I wish more people had paid attention to what these individuals had to say, and then dismissed the word. The word was offensive.
The word was terrible.
It was awful, but it's how newspapers work. If you're a writer, and you have
a catch phrase, everybody's going to read your article and everybody's going
to talk about it, but if she—I think it was a she—had just left out that word...
Then the article would have been much more—would've real-
ly engaged them, as opposed to just combating the word.
That made me sad, because people should be talking about this, but some of
these women thought, so what? Maybe they haven't had that experience and don't know what it's like to feel left out, but why shouldn't we read about that and be sympathetic to that? Every time I'm at a show—even before I read that article—I always look around, and if the audience is mostly white, I think something's wrong.
It makes me uncomfortable. Sorry, that's not much of a question. If a band isn't attracting any female or minority fans, then something's wrong with that picture—not necessarily with their music, but with their image. That's what concerns me.
There's a flipside, too. Like you go to a TV on the Radio show, and it's still a predominantly caucasian crowd. For whatever reason, people's musical tastes fol-
low along certain lines, in a macro point of view, and part of that is because we've
gotten so used to determining people's ethnicity or cultural identity by things that don't have anything to do with ethnicity. Like hip-hop isn't really about being
black, but it just so happens that...the majority of hip-hop artists are black.
And then you have Eminem—and he's from Detroit.
But even the bonafide hip-hop artists...it has
more to do with environment than ethnicity.
That's a good point. I was glad Curtis Hanson made that movie. He did well.
He did well. And if you asked the average hip-hop fan,
they'd be like, I hope he does the new 50 Cent movie.
I actually went to the 50 Cent movie, even though I don't
have any strong opinions about 50 one way or the other.
I haven't seen it.
I'm a Jim Sheridan fan, and I'm Irish, and I thought, how did an Irish guy end up making this movie, but I would recommend it, because 50 Cent is shot—I think the story is that he was shot nine times—and Sheridan films the sequence like an IRA hit, and I don't think I imagined it, because I've seen Alan Clarke's Elephant...
I've seen Alan Clarke's Elephant—I have Elephant on my Sony PSP. [laughs]
There you go. That's awesome. Once you've seen that, then watch Get Rich or Die Tryin' and see how he stages the hit: it's dark, it's at night, you don't see who it is... Supposedly 50 Cent didn't know who it was, but I have my doubts about that. For the most part, critics didn't really review that film, and I'm not saying it's great, but it isn't terrible either. There's more to it than meets the eye—probably more than is even in 50 Cent's life. Jim Sheridan was trying to put some of his own stuff in there.
This thing about being the only black guy at the indie show or the only white guy at a hip-hop show—what I wanted to say about The New York Times piece—is that there's this thing where if you grew up in a certain place—like if you grew up in inner-city Mi-
ami, if you grew up in Harlem—it's not cool to listen to rock music. It's just not what you do, and it's almost like if you do that, instantly there's a part of you that's less black because you might want to listen to Nirvana or the Rapture or something like that. What I feel about the Times article—like you said, "except for the word blip-
ster"—is that it legitimately stated that these are young black kids who like skate-
boards, who like mohawks, who like rock music, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But skateboard culture can be kind of limiting, too.
Even if the article only hit on three or four of them, skateboard culture is a culture that is not hip-hop. Although it was saying they're "special" because they listen to these things, it wasn't saying they aren't any less black; it was saying black kids are into these things. I was walking down the street in LA the other day, and there were these four Mexican kids. They're wearing skinny jeans, they're out there on their skateboards, they're trying to do tricks, and it's like, "Hey, we're just out here on
our skateboards, doing tricks." That's the shit I'm talking about—it doesn't make them any less Mexican. It just makes them more skateboard people.
Did you see Wassup Rockers? Because the kids are skateboarders and they're
into the Ramones, and oddly enough—since we're talking about cultures and subcultures—a middle-aged white guy, Larry Clark, made that film. Go figure.
I was going to say: don't go figure, because it's Larry Clark. [laughs]
Another thing more people didn't address is that hipster has become a bad word. That's another problem people seemed to have with the Times article, i.e. "I'm
not a hipster because I like TV on the Radio!" It breeds a sort of defensiveness.
We consciously do not put it in the movie.
Some reviewers have.
Some reviewers definitely have.
I didn't want to touch that word.
I don't think they're hipsters.
I don't either.
Click here for part three
Endnote: Images from the Internet Movie Database, OutNow!, Trailer Addict,
and my personal collection (Jenkins with NWFF program director Adam Sekuler).