The man behind ‘Moonlight,’ playwright and MacArthur Fellow Tarell McCraney


Tarell McCraney, 2013 MacArthur Fellow“It was a lot,” Tarell Alvin McCraney says of his oddly coincidental evening not long ago, when the out playwright attended the premiere of Moonlight in Miami, where he grew up.

Family he hadn’t met before came out in droves. His brother showed up, and longtime friends too. It also happened to be the birthday of “Kevin,” a childhood confidante from his youth who was the basis for an influential character in Moonlight.

“I’m like…” he starts, grunting with frustration at an experience he calls “difficult” and “complicated.”

“I mean, it was a full moon,” McCraney continues. “It was a year to the day it started filming, it was my birthday weekend – and there was a storm, but then there were, like, clear skies.”

That day, as he watched the film adaptation of his semi-autobiographical stage piece, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, in a theater just a quick jaunt from where he was raised, the intersections between reality and film were palpable. So were his feelings. During the premiere in Miami, “a lot of me wanted to be like, ‘It’s happening, go to sleep,’” but in London, he says, “It was easy to tell the lineal space between reality and myth and fiction.”

McCraney wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue in 2003, while experiencing “depression” and “sadness” as he grieved the loss of his mother, who died that summer. Like the film’s protagonist, Chiron, whose life unfolds in three chapters, the playwright has always preferred expressing himself outside of conversation.

MIAMI BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 15: Tarell Alvin McCraney attends "MOONLIGHT" Cast & Crew Hometown Premiere in Miami at Colony Theater on October 15, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for A24)“I can talk ad nauseam about art, but ask me how I feel that day and I can barely say about five words,” he says, chuckling. For McCraney, making his press rounds for Moonlight — a major contender at the Golden Globes, recipient just last week of best picture honors (and more) from the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association as well as a frontrunner at the Oscars — is a new, unnerving process. “Normally people ask the same five questions about the play and you kind of go, ‘Thanks so much, and it’s about this and come see it,’ but this is different.”

McCraney wrote his first play at age 13. Later, he graduated from Yale School of Drama’s playwriting program, receiving the Cole Porter Playwriting Award upon graduation. In 2013, the playwright garnered the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Though McCraney, now 36, has written several plays since his teenage years, including The Brothers Size, which earned him the 2009 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue reflects his life most intimately and explores a question he has a better grasp of now: “Why wasn’t I brave enough to become like the men I knew in my life?”

Directed by Barry Jenkins, who also grew up in Miami’s Liberty City, just blocks away from McCraney, Moonlight chronicles Chiron’s discovery of identity and sexuality through a multi-tiered, age-shifting narrative: “I: Little,” when we meet small, shy Chiron, who lives with his drug-addicted mother and essentially becomes the adopted son of a compassionate crack dealer, Juan; “II: Chiron,” when he first sexually engages with his friend, Kevin; and “III: Black,” which ends with grown Chiron, hardened and on the same path as Juan, though still sexually conflicted.

“The original piece,” McCraney says, “was and is a kind of meditation on what my life could be, less about what my life actually is.” He unleashes a hearty laugh. “Clearly, I was trying to do some sort of inner excavation. But for me, it’s about watching how identity plays out and looking at chaotic portions of my childhood and trying to figure out when there were other alternatives and what did those alternatives look like.”

Few existed for young McCraney, who snuck ballet lessons behind his father’s back and admits he would’ve felt ashamed to tell this story during his adolescence.

20151113_193323_Moonlight_D23_0117.tif“I think, for me, if there is a someone like me out there…,” he says, trailing off. “I feel like this piece talks so much about an American phenomenon of hyper masculinity that exists in so many forms.”

Because “I was not that brave,” he continues, McCraney admires the brazen nature of child actors Alex R. Hibbert (the first chapter’s “Little”) and Jaden Piner (the first chapter’s Kevin), who he calls “my heroes.”

“Kids are already so much more exposed and integrated than I was in terms of just understanding the voices of the world,” he says. “It’s important for me to see that these young people are finding avenues and platforms in which to speak their truth, not just about their own sexual identity, but that they want a diverse community and that their community is full of the voices that sometimes get siloed and stifled.”

The voice of the black, gay man is finally being heard in Moonlight, as demonstrated by its initial rollout at the end of October, when the film banked an impressive $414,740 on just four screens in New York and Los Angeles.

“People are walking away feeling like they’ve met somebody,” he says. “I think that’s what the film does. Barry was really adamant about making sure that you lived with Chiron and all of his iterations in a way that you probably might not have if this film was made by somebody else.”

For McCraney, “it preserves all the things that are important to me.”

As for the film’s success — both commercially, and as a projected Oscar contender — it’s not something he or Jenkins expected, the playwright says.

“I guess I wasn’t really thinking, ‘Oh, we’re gonna be talking about it at film screenings across the world,’” McCraney admits. “I just thought, ‘We’re telling a really good story, so I’m into it and you’re into it, and we’re into it in the same way, so let’s tell it.’”

— Chris Azzopardi

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Cho must go on: Margaret Cho’s psyCHO tour

chotayMargaretCho-054Margaret Cho was a comedian even before she knew it.

“As a kid, I was thinking all these things,” Cho, 46, recalls, expounding on her surprising childhood shyness, “and when I would say them, people would laugh. I was really confused by that.”

It makes sense now, of course. Cho, after all, has turned life’s ugly truths — from political injustices to homophobia and the gory details of her colonoscopy — into 20 years of comedy gold.

Luckily, for Cho, the world is still insane. Everything happens right in front of us, in real time, and we can’t turn away. And Cho, naturally, has something to say about that. You know, along with gun control, beheadings, the Amy Schumer movie shooting, rape, female comedian sexism and the “systematic slaughter of African Americans.”

Yes, Cho is still fearless. Yes, she is still notorious. She brought her psyCHO Tour performance to North Texas this past summer, but has recently announced her fall dates as well. And she’s still tearing down the world’s wrongdoers in the fiercest and funniest of ways.

Dallas Voice: The first time I interviewed you was while I was in college. And the world, it seemed, was less fucked up then.  Margaret Cho: It’s still being fucked up. Like, I think it was always this fucked up and we didn’t know about it because we didn’t have Facebook and Twitter to alarm us every single day. I remember when you really had to look for beheading videos. You couldn’t just start playing them.

How do you — and how should we — deal with the accessibility of… everything?  I understand that there are a lot of things that need our attention, and I think maybe pick your battles. Which causes do you really want to look at and think about? I just wanna get over police brutality. That, to me, is the most pressing issue, so my thing is dashboard cam. I’m so dashboard cam/body cam; that’s what I watch for hours on end.

Your upcoming show will assess some of the serious issues we’re facing today. How do you balance comedy and sociopolitical issues?  You have to find a truth there. For me, comedy or humor is often a coping mechanism. A lot of what I’m talking about is police brutality and the different sides of it that I’ve encountered and what I see happening in the media. As a comedian, it’s a kind of alchemy that’s really the magic, you know. Something so tragic and terrible as this systematic slaughter of African Americans in this country — how do you find some way to talk about that that isn’t totally depressing?

How do you? And moreover, how do you turn it into comedy?  It’s funny, because whenever white and black people fight, Asians and Mexicans don’t know what to do. ’Cause we’re like, “Are we white? Or are we black? We just wanna pick the winning side.” For me the joke here is the gradations of how we view racism. Everybody’s a human being, so it’s very hard to figure out how to talk about it, so that’s my take on it. And I have a lot of different things that I’m talking about in the show: gun control, and also different kinds of police brutality that I’ve witnessed.

Another comedian, Amy Schumer, whose movie was playing when a gunman opened fire in a Louisiana theater, is taking on gun control as wellIt’s great.

How do you think comedy can create sociopolitical change?  Comedy now is a major player in politics. A lot of people are responsible for this, but the main ones are Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Hannibal Buress and Stephen Colbert — now Amy Schumer. These are people who are actually changing the way we feel about politics, about who is gonna be president, about race. Comedy can really shift the way we view everything.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Adam Lambert: The gay interview

Our intrepid contributor Chris Azzopardi sent us this exclusive interview with gay music star Adam Lambert, whose sophomore album we reviewed here this week. In it, he talks about the “novelty” of his homosexuality, being an unfit role model and his peculiar sex toy.

Remember the fuss Adam Lambert caused when he tongued his keyboardist in front of the world? Of course you do. The controversial kiss drew both homophobic outbursts and so-what shrugs, and it’s an American Music Awards moment that won’t soon be forgotten. Especially by Lambert himself.

“That was an interesting night,” he says, snickering in his charmingly guy-next-door way about that seminal smooch. “That AMAs performance was trespassing, in a way.” And, on his latest album, he’s not done crossing the line: Trespassing is the defiant second to the American Idol spawn’s 2009 debut.

More after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lady Gaga: The gay interview

Lady Gaga doesn’t give too many interviews — lord knows we’ve tried to get them.

But contributor Chris Azzopardi snagged a rare sit-down with the music (and gay!) icon, who talked a lot about her gay fans. Read the entire interview after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones