Jenkins was born November 19, 1979, just as black Miami was about to explode in anger. A month later, white and Hispanic Miami Police officers beat to death a black motorcyclist named Arthur McDuffie. When the cops were acquitted of murder the following May, thousands of protesters swept the streets, from Overtown north to Liberty City.

The McDuffie riots ushered in a dark decade. 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, was more interested in drinking than raising his son or paying child support. Alcene, who shares her son's small, almond-shaped eyes, had other issues that forced her to leave 3-year-old Barry and his two older siblings with their grandmother. "She was definitely part of the craziness that caught so many people in Miami back then," Jenkins says of his mother's extended absence. "Let's just leave it at that."

Barry's grandma Minerva and older sister Kimberly raised the undersize boy in the Village housing project at NW Eighth Avenue and 69th Street. Budgets were tight, but two things were never lacking around the house: football and television.

Jenkins and his director of photography, David Bornfriend, line up a shot while filming Chlorophyl.
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Jenkins and his director of photography, David Bornfriend, line up a shot while filming Chlorophyl.
Boom operator Felix Alvarez records sound for the film.
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Boom operator Felix Alvarez records sound for the film.

Location Info

Map

Knight Concert Hall

1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Details

Barry Jenkins’s Chlorophyl will screen this Saturday at the seventh annual Borscht Film Festival, which features 12 melody-inspired shorts and one videogame. James Francco — a robot — will host the event. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and movies begin at 8 on April 23 at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. General admission is free but available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets for orchestra-level seats cost $20 and come with a T-shirt, poster, gift bag, and temporary tattoo. Reservations at arshtcenter.org.

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"There were times when we didn't have hot water or a phone line," Jenkins remembers. "But I guarantee you, we always had cable, and it was always on."

When he wasn't watching Eddie Murphy flicks, Barry played pick-up football. Always the smallest kid in the game, he threw himself around with abandon. During massive scrums called "throw up, tackle," kids would meet on a side street or in an empty lot, scrunch up some old rags or newspaper, and go berserk. Barry was the only kid who kept picking up the ball, even after ending up on the bottom of a ten-person pile.

"That's how I learned to run," Jenkins remembers.

Then after Barry's ninth birthday, Liberty City once again burst into flames. In January 1989, Miami cop William Lozano shot black motorcyclist Clement Lloyd as he fled. The bullet struck Lloyd in the head, sending him swerving into an oncoming car. Both he and his passenger died. This time, black Miami didn't wait for a show trial to take to the streets. The mayhem lasted four days.

From his family's small apartment, young Barry watched as the Edison Furniture store across the street — "the only place in the neighborhood for new shit" — was ransacked. As a paint warehouse a block away belched 50-foot flames, figures flitted past Barry's window; they were carrying TV sets, stereos, and even mattresses slung over their shoulders. The riot would haunt him — not only the violence but also the anger and distrust that gripped the neighborhood for years after the riots.

Jenkins remembers his childhood fondly and insists Liberty City was safer than today. But gangs and guns were still all too common. A boy slightly older than Jenkins was shot on a nearby basketball court, and Jenkins's 12-year-old cousin was jumped and badly beaten by a dozen older kids.

"They made a circle around him," remembers Jenkins, who was 6 at the time and watched the gruesome event. "He knew he had it coming. They beat the shit out of him."

Jenkins's reaction was to hit the books harder than ever. Soon the family moved to Opa-locka and then Carol City in search of a safer neighborhood. But Jenkins returned to Liberty City for school, enrolling in an elite medical magnet program at the new Northwestern High School, built near the spot where the now-demolished Village once stood.

At five-foot-eight and 175 pounds, Jenkins had filled out enough to play football for the Bulls. By his senior year, he was team captain, ahead of future NFL stars Torrie Cox and Vernand Morency. When the season ended early for the powerhouse program, Jenkins ran track, leading Northwestern to a district title as one of Miami-Dade's fastest in the 110- and 330-meter hurdles.

Jenkins was recruited to play football at several Division II schools but set his sights instead on an English education degree at Florida State, where his 4.9 grade point average and 1210 SAT score earned him a full ride. He continued with sports at FSU, nearly leading his flag football team to an intramural title. He also studied like hell.

Then one day near the end of his junior year, when he had just about earned enough credits to graduate, Jenkins was walking past the Seminoles' massive football stadium when he spotted the film school, one of the best in the country. On a lark, Jenkins decided to apply to the program, which admitted only 30 students per year. A few months later, he was accepted.

On a cool summer night in San Francisco, a young black man and woman drift down the street, laughing and stumbling drunkenly. In matching hipster attire, they cling to one another like new lovers, at least until the woman, Jo, receives a text message on her phone.

"Who's that?" Micah slurs, stopping on the sidewalk. Jo keeps walking without answer. "Is it any surprise?" he scowls. "Is it any surprise that folks of color in this city date outside their race?

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