Director Barry Jenkins: Moonlight may be beneficiary of Oscars diversity push

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins has said he is not sure his film would have scored eight Oscar nominations before the voting body’s diversity push.

The film, which follows a young black man struggling with his sexuality as he grows up in a deprived neighbourhood of Miami, has received nods including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor.

However, Barry said he is not sure the film would have been so successful if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes for the Oscars, had not expanded its voting body to include more young people and minorities after the #Oscarssowhite outrage surrounding last year’s ceremony.

Naomie Harris (Ian West/PA)

He told the Press Association: “The movie would be the movie and would be made the same way, but would a different body have ended up with the same result? Who knows.

“The way I think of what happened last year and this year, which we are framing as a response to it, is I think in years past, if someone had said ‘I have this movie that is about a poor black boy growing up in the projects with a mom addicted to drugs and who is struggling with his sexuality’, maybe it would have been easier for someone to say ‘You know what, I know what that is. I don’t need to watch that’.

“But because of the uproar last year, I do think people informally decided ‘I’m not going to assume I know what that thing is and I’m going to watch it’, and once you get past that point it is just a work of art like any other.

“I wish we could take these films and take them back in time a year and see what happened then, but we can’t. It would be interesting.”

Barry is the first black director to also be nominated for a screenplay prize in a best picture-nominated film.

If he wins the best director prize he would be the first black filmmaker to do so, but he is not letting the burden of history weigh on him.

He said: “It’s not my history. I’ve only made two films so history belongs to the governing body.

“The movie is fixed. With all these awards the way I approach it is someone is chosen, it’s not anything I’ve earned, it’s something that I was chosen to have bestowed upon me.

Barry Jenkins (Ian West/PA)

“I have to think that way or it validates the fact that I would be the first person of a certain background to receive a certain distinction because I’m certainly not the first person to merit the distinction.

“I do think it’s important for these ceilings to be eradicated. The less we have people being the first the more we have progressed.

“I think it’s important for younger filmmakers coming up behind me to see. Until someone does something, theoretically it’s impossible but here we have this little film. It makes things achievable.”

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