Medicine for Melancholy

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Medicine for Melancholy is a 2008 independent film by Barry Jenkins, starring Wyatt Cenac, Tracey Heggins, and Elizabeth Acker. The film appeared at several film festivals in 2008, including South by Southwest, Maryland Film Festival, and The Toronto International Film Festival.

Plot Summary[edit]

Medicine for Melancholy chronicles the one-day romance of Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo’ (Tracey Heggins), two Black twenty-somethings, who have a one night stand and end up spending a full day and night together, despite Jo’s long-distance relationship with a wealthy, white gallery owner. The characters wake up in someone else's bed after a party, and head their separate ways. Jo' leaves her wallet in their shared taxi, and they reconnect when he returns it to her at her apartment. Throughout the day, Micah and Jo' visit the Museum of the African Diaspora, stumble upon an affordable housing coalition meeting, and attend a concert. Venturing around San Francisco, the characters discuss race and gentrification with regard to the low percentage of African Americans living in San Francisco.[1] Micah is openly critical of Jo's interracial relationship, as he struggles to reconcile his African American identity with the very white world of the Hipster scene in San Francisco.

Visual Effects and Portrayals of Black Love[edit]

The film includes desaturation of images. Filmmakers went through the film shot by shot and pulled out the majority of color. In an interview, director Barry Jenkins stated that certain scenes in the film have more color to reflect when the characters aren't thinking about race or housing issues. [2]


Medicine for Melancholy mainly confronts themes of African American assimilation into "Hipster" or "Indie" culture. San Francisco serves also as a racial foil: the city has a tiny African-American population of 7% [3]

Racial Identity[edit]

Writer/director Barry Jenkins has described the films' two main characters as playing out a debate about identity politics. Each of the two main characters embodies an ideology. Jenkins saw the character of Micah as a man who was always building barriers, whereas Jo thinks that race is a limiter. [4] Accusing Jo' of assimilation, Micah strives to reclaim his essential "Blackness" as Jo' contrastingly claims Micah has a "hang up" about his race and strives to overcome her own.

Critical Reception[edit]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling the actors "effortlessly engaging" and the direction "assured"; he also noted the film was "beautifully photographed." [5] It was a New York Times Critics' Pick [6] and nominated for three 2008 Independent Spirit Awards. [7] On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an 83% fresh rating. [8]


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