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Barry Jenkins Sets The Record Straight On Media Sensationalism & Telling His Own Story

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 21, 2011 at 10:53AM

Earlier today, I alerted you all to an article on the Miami New Times website on filmmaker Barry Jenkins, highlighting portions of it within my entry (read it HERE if you haven't yet). The post and article made their way across the web, mostly via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
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Earlier today, I alerted you all to an article on the Miami New Times website on filmmaker Barry Jenkins, highlighting portions of it within my entry (read it HERE if you haven't yet). The post and article made their way across the web, mostly via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Barry himself read my post and soon after, sent me a message, expressing some discontent, particularly with the Miami New Times profile, stating that he'd like to address my post, the New Times article, and provide some context and background.

Of course, I said yes to his request, encouraging him to allow me to post it here, and he agreed to that.

So here we are... Barry's very personal, poignant, and revealing words follow below, and I think in reading them, you'll get a better sense of the man and the artist - maybe moreso than you will from any of the films he's made, or articles written about him.

Here you go... though I'd suggest that you first read the New Times article, and then my post, before reading this:

This morning, Shadow and Act ran an article referencing a piece written about me in the Miami New Times. The actual quote quotient in the article should be enough to serve my stance on the piece; the word “woo” would not be the first to come to mind regards my time spent attempting a Hollywood assignment. And if merely taking a meeting on a film were grounds to constitute an offer, then and only then could I be considered to have rejected as many lucrative opportunities as the article projects.

The idea of that life is certainly nice.

Above all though, I wanted to comment on a passage not mentioned here on this blog but found within the New Times story. A blink and you’ll miss it moment, it went like this: Crack cocaine took the neighborhood by storm in the 80s, and the Jenkins family was torn apart by its own addictions. Barry’s father, Barry Moore Fickerling [sic], was more interested in drinking than raising his son or paying child support.

I’ve physically been as close to Barry Moore Fickling as I am to this keyboard and yet we’ve never said a word to one another. The man passed away when I was twelve taking to his grave the knowledge I was not his son. In the few times his eyes met mine, I never saw anything in them but anger and hurt. And to think that alcohol could drive such a wedge between a young black man and his out of wedlock child is a story we know by rote.

I don’t know how Barry’s name ended up in this piece. His is a story I’m still learning myself and to find it referenced in this New Times article was a shock. To wit, it wasn’t until I was twenty-four years old that I learned the back-story of the most fascinating man in my life: for the decade prior to my birth, this man, Barry Moore Fickling, lived with my mother as a working class family raising both my sister and brother, two out of wedlock children from departed fathers themselves.

This man, Barry Moore Fickling, a man who until his very last breath looked at me in ways that left me as naked and unloved as I’ve felt in this life… imagine learning that this very same man for a decade made house and a love with a woman bearing two children from other men and finally, at the birth of his only flesh and blood child, would have such a loving home undone by… alcohol?

Barry did nothing for me, and yet I hurt for him when I read that. As a black male, it hurt me to have such a gross and accepted characterization associated with my story. Had I taken possession of the piece and spoke my story rather than have it inferred, I would’ve presented the dots I’ve connected in the intervening years. They proceed as follows: after raising my sister and brother as his own children for a decade, an assumed act of adultery split Barry and my mother. From the moment I was conceived, Barry rejected me as his child. This was November 1979. The vices of the 80s bludgeoned us all.

I don’t know who said those things about Barry. I’ve spoken his name only a handful of times in my life. He was many things but he was not an “alcoholic who refused to pay child support.” Much more simply, he was a man with a broken heart. As human beings, black men have a right to have this be apart of their narrative. I have a right to feel a broken heart, not a dependence on alcohol, set the course of my life.

I’ve lived my life claiming no connection to this man Barry Moore Fickling; he set the table and I accepted it. In my heart, I feel the blood that runs through me is not the same as his. And yet, look at the work I keep coming back to? How can I not embrace that connection, reclaim it? I’ve rarely spoken any of this. If there’s a silver lining in having things private made so public, it must be in this stepping forward to speak my own story.

The industry statements are another issue altogether. Being a rebel is a wonderful thing when you’ve earned it. The work I’ve done is modest.

Shadow and Act recently joined IndieWire and so I’ll close with this fitting tidbit. A week or so back this site ran an interview with Steven Soderbergh regards his pending retirement from filmmaking. Curiously, the article ran with a photo depicting the one and only time I’ve ever met the man (whom I admire), a quick conversation we had at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The content of the article had nothing to do with me, and yet there I am. On speaking to the press, he said: “There’s no class to teach you about it. When you’re being interviewed, you really do need to imagine everything you say being blown up to 72 point type… When you’re talking about yourself, less history, more mystery.”

I'm not sure this is the right forum, but if you’ve read all this, much thanks for giving me the time. I sincerely appreciate it.

-Barry

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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