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Barry Jenkins
Courtesy of Euro News

Barry Jenkins says Oscars Moonlight blunder fuelled racist misconceptions

The director has described how the La La Land – Moonlight mishap propelled a false narrative surrounding the film’s success

Four years on from the moment La La Land was mistakenly – and albeit briefly – awarded Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, Barry Jenkins, the director of the trophy’s true recipient, Moonlight, has spoken out on the “frightening” gaffe. 

In a recent episode of the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast, the If Beale Street Could Talk director explains the bittersweet nature of his Oscars win. “In a slightly sinister way, the fuck-up confirms or affirms some people’s unsavoury thoughts about why the film was awarded Best Picture,” he said, noting how the now infamous blunder fuelled a false belief that Moonlight only won “because it was the Black film”. 

Jenkins added that although the clumsy announcement was a boon to publicity and the film’s subsequent popularity, he avoids watching clips back from the ceremony. “It didn’t feel special in the moment for me personally… it was actually quite frightening what was happening given everything going on in the world. I thought some very nefarious things were happening.”

While spectators at home had more of a bird’s-eye view over the disruption, for Jenkins, a moment of intense anxiety was only heightened by the fact that he had not seen the golden envelope listing Moonlight as the Best Picture winner, meaning it was impossible to tell if what was happening was real. “For better or for worse,” the filmmaker says, “that particular moment is going to be the most visible thing that’s ever associated with me”.

Jenkins’ next project, a ten-episode television series, The Underground Railroad, debuts on Prime Video on May 14. Based on Colson Whitehead’s novel, the programme follows the life of Cora Randall, a young woman escaping enslavement, which the lead actress Thuso Mbedua describes as a tale of hope and love. “As much as it might feel like there hasn’t been a lot of progress, there is hope. Hope that we can do something about it, that we can talk, learn and put things in place to ensure these things don’t continue. Personally, I want people to heal when they watch the story, just as I was able to heal from performing it”.

Listen to Jenkins’ full interview on the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast here.