Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins on Being the First Black Director to Win a National Board of Review Award and the Question of Who Gets Considered

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2016 National Board Of Review Gala - Inside Arrivals
Photo: Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic

Moonlight helmer Barry Jenkins is on a roll, snapping up one best-director award after another this awards season, including at the New York Film Critics Circle on Tuesday night and then at the National Board of Review on Wednesday. The latter achievement marked a milestone, with Jenkins becoming the first black person to win NBR’s Best Director honor. And, as he reminded the crowd during his acceptance speech, these wins are helping break barriers, if belatedly so. They could even be the key to helping make America great again, although perhaps not in the way Trump intended. Here’s what Jenkins had to say about that, his landmark win, and who has merited awards consideration in the past.

I wasn’t going to say this, but shit, I’ve got to say it. So I know exactly where I was when I found out that I was going to receive this very prestigious honor from the National Board of Review. I was at a Q&A, and [publicist] Peggy Siegal ran in and said, “Oh my god, Barry Jenkins, you just won Best Director from the National Board of Review!” And she had this look on her face, and I was like, “Why does she look like that?” And then she said, “And you’re the first black director, the first black person to ever receive that distinction.” [Applause] I didn’t want to talk about this, but we’re here, so let’s talk about it. And so I wondered, “Why is that?” I looked through, this organization started in 1909, and I looked at all the names of best director. And they were all amazing names. And just like this year, we all have a choice, Kenneth Lonergan could be up here, Damian Chazelle could be up here, Pablo Larrain, Kelly Reichardt … There are so many people who made great work this year. You have a choice, and this year, you chose me. And in all those years, all those directors who were chosen made great films, but then I thought about it, and I said, “You know what? There were certain people who just weren’t considered. For so long, they were never considered. Until 2012, someone like Kathryn Bigelow had never been considered.”

So I want to thank you guys from the National Board of Review, for making this very kind gesture of considering me for this award, and bestowing it upon me. You know, the country is changing, the world is changing, and you know, we’re trying to make America great again. [Audience laughs] All I’m going to say is, I’m going to take this honor as a symbol of being considered. It’s a very considerable gesture of making America great again. And what I want to say is, I want to acknowledge this because as we make America great again, let’s remember some of the inconsiderable things in our legacy, because there was a time when somebody like me was not considered. Thank you very much.

Read Barry Jenkins’s Milestone NBR Acceptance