Between Mumblecore and Post-Black Aesthetics: Barry Jenkins’s Medicine for Melancholy

  • Simon Dickel


Barry Jenkins’s 2008 debut feature film Medicine for Melancholy narrates the encounter of the film’s 20-something black protagonists, Micah and Jo’. After having a one-night stand, they spend a day together in San Francisco. The main focus of the film is on the relationship and the endless conversations between Micah and Jo’. For this reason and because of the lo-fi aesthetics of this independent production, the film has been classified as a mumblecore film, a movement within American independent filmmaking that started a decade ago. The term “mumblecore” was coined by director Andrew Bujalski whose 2002 film Funny Ha Ha is regarded as having started this movement. Medicine for Melancholy meets most of the criteria that are ascribed to mumblecore films. In a 2007 New York Times article, Dennis Lim observes that “mumblecore narratives hinge less on plot points than on the tipping points in interpersonal relationships. A favorite setting is the party that goes subtly but disastrously astray. Events are often set in motion by an impulsive, ill-judged act of intimacy” (Lim 2007). These elements can be identified in Medicine for Melancholy. The film does not seem concerned with plotlines, but with Jo’ and Micah’s negotiations of their relationship. The viewer gets to know them after a party that has gone astray and the events are set in motion because of Jo’ and Micah’s one-night stand, an “impulsive act of intimacy.” Mumblecore films became known to a wider audience because they have a forum at Austin’s annual South by Southwest festival, and this is where Medicine for Melancholy premiered in 2008.


Racial Identity Black People Street Noise Political Critique Black History 
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Copyright information

© Anne Crémieux, Xavier Lemoine, and Jean-Paul Rocchi 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Dickel

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