Barry Jenkins's victory tour for 'Moonlight' is something to behold

Washington Post

"Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins had a speech prepared just in case his movie won best picture Sunday. But, as he told Variety, "that thing went completely out the window."

That's because, as everyone now knows, he had already lost by the time he won. Three "La La Land" acceptance speeches had gotten underway before producer Jordan Horowitz found out his movie hadn't actually won and he alerted the crowd. "This is not a joke," he said while motioning for the "Moonlight" group to take the stage.

In the aftermath, it seems like "Moonlight" was robbed not just of the glory, overshadowed by an error that will go down in history, but also of that moment of pure joy an Oscar winner gets -- or so we imagine -- upon hearing the name of the movie called by presenters. When Jenkins finally made his way to the stage, he was too overwhelmed by the emotional whiplash to give the speech he had planned.

But Jenkins doesn't appear to feel deprived. It turns out he isn't just a brilliant filmmaker; he also has an almost superhuman capacity for compassion and understanding.

Even that night, backstage after the win, he diplomatically told the gathered reporters that the way he won "made a very special feeling even more special but not in the way I expected."

He also marveled at how well the "La La Land" team handled the embarrassing turn of events.

They "were so gracious," he said. "I can't imagine being in their position and having to do that. I wasn't speechless because we won, I was speechless because it was so gracious of them to do that."

The next morning, he was still applauding Horowitz for stepping forward to quickly right the wrong.

It should probably come as no surprise that the man who brought us "Moonlight" -- which is expanding into more theaters this weekend -- is such a sensitive, giving soul. That drama, about a poor black kid in Miami trying to understand his identity and sexuality, was profoundly moving. It also brought humanity to characters that are usually rendered as stereotypes onscreen, including the protagonist's crack-addicted mother and a drug dealer named Juan, played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali.

Not that Jenkins would even take credit for those characters. When the director passed through Washington, D.C., late last year, he discussed the typical audience reaction to Juan, and gave Ali all the glory.

"People keep tripping out over Juan and that's because Mahershala brings his whole being to that character," Jenkins said.

"Don't sell yourself short," responded Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the unproduced play that "Moonlight" is based on. (McCraney and Jenkins took home the best adapted screenplay award Sunday.)

McCraney repeatedly urged Jenkins to take credit during that interview, but Jenkins just kept spreading the love around. When Jenkins said that he was just trying to do justice to the characters McCraney had created, the playwright responded, "I also think that's good movie-making."

"Those beats are all yours," Jenkins insisted. "I'm just painting them."

Now he's taking his bright disposition and applying it to a chaotic Oscars finale, which Jenkins insists was actually a thing of beauty.

"It's messy, but it's kind of gorgeous," he told Variety. "You have these two groups of people who came together for a second. There's a picture with me hugging Jordan, and Adele (Romanski, producer of "Moonlight") has her arm on his shoulder. That's what the moment was."

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In that issue, Jenkins appears on the cover alongside "La La Land" director Damien Chazelle. When a culture writer on Twitter posted a photo of it, with commentary about "Moonlight" "having to share its narrative with 'La La Land,' " Jenkins responded:

"Must chime in here: this cover is traditionally reserved for best director. It's tradition"

Meanwhile, Jenkins isn't entirely consumed by the Oscars. Last night, a fan, heading into her senior year of high school, tweeted at the filmmaker asking for advice. And he gave her some, including, "DO NOT SLACK OFF." The girl said she was "traumatized about being out in the real world when all I want to do is eat cookies." And of course, he assured her that was fine.

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