“We’re two boys from Liberty City representing the 305.”
Tarrell Alvin McCraney
(305 is the area code in Miami)
“Liberty City, one of the poorest sections of Miami and almost entirely black, is geographically tiny, little more than the housing projects and the blocks surrounding them.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones/ New York Times
What’s more unlikely than an Oscar-winning screenwriter being from the Liberty City section of Miami? That’s easy— how about two Oscar-winning writers being from there. Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney collected the Best Adapted Screenplay Award Sunday for their Moonlight script. Both are from the same housing project in Liberty City.
And to top it off, Moonlight had a surprise upset of La La Land to win Best Picture Oscar.
Allow me take you on a quick tour of greater Miami to explain what’s so special about being from Liberty City.
Less than ten miles east of Liberty City is Miami Beach with its beautiful Art Deco hotels, glamorous night clubs, and high-end cars. Here’s a map of homes in the South Beach and surrounding islands listed on Zillow that are listed for three million or more. (Make note of one listing for $65 million.)
And lastly on our little tour, just 10 miles to the west of Liberty City you’ll find the Trump National Hotel Miami, a country club where PGA tournaments have been held every year since 1962. Tiger Woods won four times there.
You get the picture. Liberty City is surrounded by some of the finest and upscale places in the United States. I won’t speak for Liberty City (or its next door neighbor, Overtown) in terms of today, but back in 1979 when Barry Jenkins was born Liberty City was a just under six square miles low income and high crime zone. (Tough but not as many guns on the street as there are today according to Jenkins.) In 1980 riots broke out there amidst racial tension over a police shooting and acquittal.
This is how Time magazine wrote of the area in 1981 article titled Paradise Lost?:
“Even in Liberty City, the black enclave in North Miami where 18 people died in last year’s riot, the Latin influence is apparent. White store owners who abandoned their businesses are being replaced by Latin landlords. ‘The only things blacks have in Miami are several hundred churches and funeral homes,” says Johnny Jones, a former Dade County school superintendent. ‘After a generation of being Southern slaves, blacks now face a future as Latin slaves. ’”
This is how this New York Times explains the Liberty City journey of both Jenkins and McCraney:
Both men were born to mothers who had their first children when they were teenagers. Both saw their mothers become H.I.V. positive after falling victim to the crack epidemic that overtook their community. Both were taken away from their mothers and bounced around; caregivers, related and not, took them in. They both knew what it was like to have the water turned off for lack of payment, to go to school without deodorant because there was no money to buy it.”
So, yeah, it’s an unlikely place for two Oscar-winners to be raised. And in a nutshell, that’s what the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog is all about. To give a little hope to the creative Outliers in unlikely places around the world.
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Postcard #25 (Miami Beach)
Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film (Doc on Miami in the 70s & 80s)
25 Links Related to Black & Filmmaking (2017 Oscar-Edition)