They haven’t appeared together since the Academy Awards that brought them the Best Picture Oscar. So it seemed only fitting that “Moonlight” filmmaker Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney return home to Liberty City to celebrate and encourage others to pursue their potential.
“There’s nothing special about me,” Jenkins told a crowd of several hundred Saturday on the grounds of the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center. “I’m just an average brown boy from Liberty City who worked really hard. I hope it shows that you could do this, too.”
Said McCraney, “I can only echo Barry, as usual. I can only add that the only thing unique you can bring is you. If you bring your full self, it will be special. “
The filmmakers weren’t the only ones who brought their full selves to the free celebration and film screening. Seventh grader and vocalist Wesley Wray wowed the audience with a thrilling performance of “Rise Up,” drawing loud cheers and marking himself as yet another Liberty City artist to watch.
Jenkins and McCraney both attended public schools in Miami, and though they lived a few blocks apart, they did not know each other until a few years ago. With the inevitable quips about the Oscar-night mix-up in which LaLa Land erroneously was named Best Picture, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and vice chairwoman Audry M. Edmonson honored the filmmakers,producers Andrew Hevia of Miami and Adele Romanski of Venice, Fla., and the local cast and crew.
The celebration began with a salute by the marching band of the Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where Jenkins played football. Congresswoman Fredericka Wilson and members of the 5000 Black Role Models program, of which Jenkins was a member, also payed tribute.
McCraney, whose unpublished play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” was the foundation of the film, thanked long-time African Heritage Cultural Arts Center director Marshall Davis for finding the money that allowed him to participate in center programs as a poor child. He and Jenkins each donated $20,000 to the center to establish a cinema arts program.
“This is hallowed ground for me,” said McCraney, who is leading a summer playwriting program there.
McCraney later attended New World School of the Arts — he was admitted on his second attempt, after being turned down the first time; DePaul University and Yale School of Drama, where he has been named chair of the playwriting department. He is a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant.
Earlier this week, Jenkins was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017, and the stretch of NW 22nd Avenue fronting the African Heritage center was renamed Moonlight Way. His next announced project is a film adaption of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead.