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How Moonlight inspired two SoFlo extras to pursue their dreams

Nearly a year later, two South Florida natives are still riding their high of acting as extras in the Oscar-winning Moonlight.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the film is set and was filmed in our city. Most notably it was celebrated for talking about the beauty and challenges of everyday life in Liberty City.

Director Barry Jenkins also stayed true to making a Miami movie by casting local extras like Jessica Cherenfant, 18, and Nerlande Jean-Louis, 20. By exposing high schoolers to filmmaking, he’s inspired at least these two young women to pursue careers in movies.  

“It’s still surreal. If I could do it all over again, I would,” Jessica said.

Jessica was a sophomore at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School when Moonlight was filmed, and now she’s a senior at Miami Norland Senior High. Nerlande was living in Pompano Beach when she commuted to Liberty City for her two days of filming. Now she’s graduated from high school, moved to Ft. Lauderdale, and majoring in Human Resource Management through FIU’s online program while she works for Tech Support at Apple.

Nerlande said she was so grateful to be in the movie. “I still want to be an actress,” she said.

Nerlande said she originally auditioned for the role of a drug dealer’s girlfriend. Producers thought she was too young for that role, but decided to cast her as an extra. What impacted her most from the experience was seeing how intricate the process of filming is, she said.

(Jessica, left and Nerlande, right)

Jessica’s high school drama teacher encouraged her students, including Jessica, to audition for the movie.

“She was telling a couple of us, ‘Oh there’s like this movie thing going on, you guys want to be a part of it?’” Jessica said. “I was like, yeah!”

Movie producers didn’t tell any of the extras what the movie was going to be about, so the emotional depth of film’s message didn’t hit Jessica and Nerlande until they watched the final product.

Jessica’s reaction was a mix of excitement and disbelief when she finally saw herself on screen.

“When you actually see yourself it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ I was holding the phone (to take a picture), like ‘where am I?’” she said.

Nerlande went to see the movie with friends, and they all finally believed her.

“My friend was like, ‘That’s you!’” Nerlande said.

Now, Jessica says her focus is on graduating high school and getting into college, where she wants to major in broadcast journalism and continue to audition for movies.

“I feel like it was an awesome experience,” Jessica said. “I just want more after high school.”

Nerlande’s been pursuing more auditions, and recently got a small role in Belleville Cop, a new Miami movie coming out next year. She said Moonlight is what motivated her.

“I just hope it’s a stepping stone. I hope I get my own Oscar,” she said. “After this movie, it really just developed my passions in acting so much more, like I really want to do this.”