barry jenkins: black actors don’t have to play slaves to win an oscar

January 26, 2017

If you ever needed proof that Black actors and actresses can portray the full gambit of theatrical roles, look no further than the Oscar nominees for 2017. With stories about the brilliance of Black female NASA mathematicians in Hidden Figures, or the riveting tension between lost dreams and duty to family in Fences, Black thespians are providing the most glorious performances of their careers in roles that neither make them subservient or inferior. Moonlight, arguably the most important film of 2016, is about a gay Black boy growing up in poverty-stricken Miami; a triptych following his evolution from boy, to adolescent, and finally a man. Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins had this to say in an interview with PageSix: “I think the myth that you have to play a slave to win an Academy Award is just that . . . a myth. I don’t even engage in that. I just tried to make the best film that had truthfulness to what I experienced growing up.” And that’s why dynamic films exploring Blackness in its many manifestations is important. Slavery is and was a part of the African diaspora’s history and specifically the history of Black peoples in the Americas but it’s not where our stories end.

By T. McLendon, AFROPUNK Contributor