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PopPolitics: ‘Moonlight’ Director Barry Jenkins Talks About Speaking Out on the Awards Platform (Listen)

Variety logo Variety 2/11/2017 Ted Johnson
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Barry Jenkins, the writer and director of one of this year’s most acclaimed movies “Moonlight,” said that he hasn’t been reluctant to speak out during awards season, and doesn’t think others should be either.

“I think we should speak what is in our heart, whenever, no matter what stage we are on,” Jenkins tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM.

He says that there are situations where the rules of decorum should be followed, but when it comes to many ceremonies, “You are awarding a performance, and that performer is a human being.”

“It’s funny. We’ve gotten to the point where we are very conformable separating art from politics, but art has always been a political act. Telling a story, even if you do the work to actively remove politics from the work, that in and of itself is a political act. I have no problem with people speaking their minds. I just try to make things as personal as I can, which is why I have said the things I have said.”

When he accepted an award from the National Board of Review last month, Jenkins said that he had not planned to note that he was the first African-American to win the organization’s directing prize, but that it felt necessary.

“There were certain people who just weren’t considered for so long,” he said while receiving the award. “The country is changing. The world is changing. We are trying to ‘Make America Great Again.’”

Jenkins explains to “PopPolitics” what he meant by quoting President Trump’s campaign slogan.

“There was a time when someone who looked like me was simply not eligible for an award by the National Board of Review,” Jenkins says. “No matter how good and strong the work may have been, they simply were not eligible, and so I don’t know if that is the America we want to make ourselves into again. I do think that some of the things that happened with this film are a symbol of the continual progression of making America great, which is a very inclusive version of what it means to be an American.”

“Moonlight” tells the story of Chiron, a shy and introverted kid who grows up in the Miami projects, struggles with his own identity and then falls into the life of drug dealing that have consumed many of his friends and previous generations. The movie captures three different timeframes in Chiron’s life. It’s been nominated for eight Academy Awards.

Jenkins says that he noticed a difference in the response to the movie before the election and after.

“I just saw the tenor and the currency of those conversations shift after the election, in a post-election world, I think people look to the film as an affirmation of the many different versions of American that are all deeply American,” he says. “This character is often a character who is marginalized and not centered in a narrative, and I think that the centering of this character is something that people have looked to as a symbol of what America is, one of the many different versions of American life.”

Listen below:

Elizabeth Warren and the Letter Not Heard

Mathew Littman, political consultant, and Mary Murphy of USC Annenberg talk about Elizabeth Warren, and whether Mitch McConnell handed Democrats a gift by cutting her off on the Senate floor. It seemed to only draw more interest in what she was trying to read — a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King objecting to the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be a federal judge.

The question now is how Democrats can channel their opposition into effective political action.

Listen below:

“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 pm ET/11-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.

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