Barry Jenkins has imparted a definitive influence on the landscape of modern cinema with modern gems such as Moonlight, a film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as more recent projects like If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins returned to the spotlight after directing an Emmy nominated Amazon Prime show called The Underground Railroad, a project which employs magical realism to paint a picture of the historical horror of slavery.
During an interview, Jenkins was asked to cite two cinematic masterpieces that inspired him to become a filmmaker. Without any hesitation, he cited Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 masterpiece Chungking Express as the film that showed him the magic of cinema. It was the first foreign film he saw after entering film school which changed his life forever.
When it came to the second film that inspired him to embark on this journey as a filmmaker, Jenkins chose a blockbuster action film that became a true American classic. It is unlike most of the projects that he works on but John McTiernan’s Die Hard drew Jenkins into the world of cinema and showed him how powerful the cinematic spectacle can be.
Jenkins explained: “It’s a very different film than Chunking Express. The first time I saw it was on cable, you know, [during] every holiday season. This is why every now and then, on Twitter, this debate will break out, ‘Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, Die Hard is definitely a Christmas movie!’ I remember watching it multiple times every Christmas, it would just be on television and I always loved the film even as a kid.”
Continuing, “I must have been like 10-12 years old at this time. McClane was somebody you could root for. I didn’t realise it at the time but he always somehow had these Black dudes who were helping him. In Die Hard, it’s the limo driver and then the dad from 227… I always gravitated towards those films and it is related to filmmaking.”
“I didn’t realise I wanted to be a filmmaker at the time but after watching this movie at least 15 times over the course of several holidays seasons.,” the director revealed. “Finally, you know, on cable they normally speed the end credits? For whatever reason, this [screening] let the credits play out in real time and I sat there and realised: ‘Whoa! All those people made this movie. That’s a lot of people. What are they all doing?’ And it kind of just lodged in the back of my head.”
When asked about it, Jenkins acknowledged that Die Hard is nothing like his own works but he borrowed one important element from the film that has guided him over the course of his journey as one of the most promising filmmakers of the 21st century. Jenkins said: “Of course, I’m not necessarily making things in the style of Die Hard but I think the energy of discovery is still with me.”