Sims: To define this kid before he’s even born.
Jenkins: It’s interesting. Because the way we end this movie is different than the book, you can argue that it has [defined him]. One of the things I’m proudest of in the film, that I found most moving about the book … is the way Baldwin treats the character Victoria Rogers, the woman who has accused Fonny of rape. You read the book, and you know she’s not the antagonist; she is a victim. And I love the way all the women—
Sims: They never say, “It didn’t happen.”
Jenkins: Exactly. And I even love that in the movie, when Regina [King’s character, Sharon, Tish’s mother] goes to Puerto Rico [to confront Victoria about her accusation against Fonny], if I were making this movie from a place of anger, the scene between the two of them would be very problematic. Because if she went to confront that woman out of anger or bitterness … it frightens me to think of how that scene could have played out.
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Sims: Making this movie in 2018, that scene seems like the toughest needle to thread.
Jenkins: There’s a scene very early in the film where there’s an act of domestic violence. Right in the moment, you hear Joseph, Colman Domingo’s character [and Tish’s father], say, “Don’t hit your woman” [to Fonny’s father]. Then Sharon says, “Go on, we don’t need you here,” and sends the men out. The very first thing she does is go right to the door and turn the deadbolt so the men can’t come back in. The men are out there; the women are in here. Now [the women in Tish and Fonny’s families] still have it out, but just as a common denominator, woman to woman, [the message is] I’m going to protect you.
Sims: And as they have it out, it’s a woman-to-woman conversation; they’re talking about one another as mothers.
Jenkins: Exactly. So despite the fact that Sharon is there [with Victoria] talking about Fonny, I wanted that scene to also play as woman to woman—I am not here to judge you, I am not here to attack you; I am here to talk to you. It is in the book, but as the conversation is starting to slip away, [Sharon] refers to her as “daughter.” And Emily Rios [who plays Victoria] is so good in the role. You see something flinch because she’s thinking, This woman is not here to attack me. But there’s trauma, and there’s no place for trauma to go but out. Someone described it to me as Regina being like Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, sitting there trying to defuse the bomb and she cuts the wrong damn wire.
Sims: You also give the image of Fonny working on the wood, making his art, special treatment.
Jenkins: For me, talking about Baldwin’s language, I always loved that the book [includes the passage]: Fonny’s working on the wood, it’s a very soft wood, he doesn’t want to defile the wood. It reminded me of making movies. At the point where he’s doing this, he’s at the lowest of lows, in prison. I thought, I want to see this guy work, but the work needs to have an almost heightened quality to it. He’s in this place where he doesn’t have access to sunlight. His flat is a basement apartment. So let’s take the roof off the set and just blast the sun into his workspace.
Sims: To bring it back to Wong Kar-wai, In the Mood for Love has these wordless scenes with the characters carrying noodles, and it always felt like the movie was dancing, almost like waltzing with the audience. That’s how I felt about the woodworking scene.
Jenkins: And by that point, you know the story, you know the characters. It is okay to waltz at that point.
Sims: Baldwin talks about how the work keeps Fonny sane, and keeps him safe.
Jenkins: “He had found his center.”