Born on November 19, 1979 in Miami, Florida, Barry Jenkins went on to attend Florida State University, focusing on English and film and graduating in 2003. He made his screen debut that same year with the short My Josephine. He eventually made his feature length debut with 2008's Medicine for Melancholy, a comedic tale of a couple brought together by circumstance after a one-night stand.
Having also worked as a writer for the HBO series The Leftovers, Jenkins returned to the big screen in 2016 with Moonlight, a drama set in his native city which focuses on Chiron, an African-American boy coming to terms with his sexuality and identity amid a neighborhood ravaged by drugs and poverty.
With a cast featuring Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, among others, Moonlight was arguably the most critically acclaimed U.S. film of 2016, lauded not just for the poignancy of its story but also for its luminous, mesmerizing camera work and emotional depth. Adapted from a Tarell Alvin McCraney play, the indie project has earned more than $21 million domestically via limited release and word of mouth.
In January 2017, Moonlight won a best picture Golden Globe and was nominated for eight Academy Awards later that month. Jenkins became the first African-American filmmaker in Oscar history to be nominated for best director, film and screenplay. On Oscar night, he won an Academy Award with Tarell Alvin McCraney for Best Adapted Screenplay for Moonlight.
"I told my students, be in love with the process, not the result," Jenkins said in his acceptance speech. "I really wanted this result. All you people who feel like there's no mirror for you, the academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years, we will not forget you."
Mahershala Ali also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a drug dealer who becomes a father figure to the main character. The awards show ended in a historic mishap when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway incorrectly announced La La Land as the winner of Best Picture. With the La La Land cast onstage, the producers were interrupted during their acceptance speech, and it was announced that, in fact, Moonlight had won the Oscar for Best Picture. The following day, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that tabulates the Oscar ballots and is in charge of the winners' envelopes, released a statement that presenters had mistakenly been given envelopes for the wrong category.
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