‘Underground Railroad’ Director Barry Jenkins Is All the Inspiration You Need
Underground Railroad director Barry Jenkins is one of the most respected film directors today. His film Moonlight was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 3, including Best Picture and Best Director.
His newest project is Underground Railroad, a series on Amazon Prime based on Colson Whitehead’s novel about a teenage girl who escapes from a plantation in Georgia.
But Jenkins wasn’t always at the top of his game. In fact, he took a year off from film school because he doubted himself.
“That first semester of film school was really brutal at Florida State University,” Jenkins said in an interview with NPR. “I entered the film school and in the first semester I realized I was a bit in over my head. I didn’t know you needed a light to expose film.”
“And so technically, I was far behind my peers. I had to question a lot of things. The question was, am I not good at this because I’m Black and I’m poor and I grew up in the projects with a mom addicted to crack cocaine, or do I just not have access to the tools these kids have had? Have I just not been as privileged as these kids have been?”
In his year off, Jenkins made a short film called My Josephine about an Arab-American couple who washed flags in a show of patriotism.
“I’m really proud of that short and right away, I realized the first time in my life where these perceived handicaps that I thought I had, I just blasted through them,” he said.
“I disproved those thoughts that I had in the back of my mind about myself. And I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this for a living? Hell yeah.’ And I’ve just been chasing it ever since.”
We can’t think of a better inspiration for our own work!
So many of us feel impostor syndrome – the belief that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be, or the doubting of your own skills, knowledge and accomplishments.
But even the most successful and talented filmmakers doubt themselves – and they all started somewhere.
Whether you’ve attended film school or not, we all have to figure out filmmaking the “hard way” – by doing it.
We love Jenkins’s passion for and honesty about his work. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by how hard it is to get a film project out in the world, remember that he’s been there too!