SXSW: Barry Jenkins Delivers the Speech He Wanted to Read When ‘Moonlight’ Won Best Picture

"I denied myself that dream. Not you, not anyone else — me."
Barry Jenkins SXSW Keynote

Barry Jenkins didn’t get to deliver the speech he wanted to give at the Oscars last year. It’s easy to understand why: “Moonlight” wasn’t initially announced as the winner of Best Picture, and so when he came onstage for the second time that night he was too flustered to read his prepared remarks.

Just now at South by Southwest, Jenkins finally rectified that.

“Tarell [Alvin McCraney, co-writer] and I are Chiron. We are that boy. And when you watch ‘Moonlight,’ you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award — certainly don’t think he would grow up to win Best Picture,” he said while delivering a Keynote at SXSW.

“I’ve said that a lot and what I’ve had to admit is that I placed those limitations on myself. I denied myself that dream. Not you, not anyone else — me. And so, to anyone watching this who sees themselves in us, let this be a symbol, a reflection that leads you to love yourself. Because doing so may be the difference between dreaming at all and somehow, through the Academy’s grace, realizing dreams you never allowed yourself to have.”

Jenkins covered a lot of ground during his hourlong speech, beginning the story of his cinematic journey with his love of “Die Hard” (“the greatest Christmas movie ever made”) and the questions he had as the credits rolled: “What’s a grip?” He eventually realized he wanted to be one of those names, and so he switched from studying creative writing to film at Florida State University.

It was there that Jenkins directed “My Josephine,” an ambitious eight-minute short that he touched on several times throughout his Keynote and encouraged anyone listening to watch if they hadn’t already:

Jenkins’ speech ended similarly to how it began, with an anecdote about making “Moonlight” that he said “floored” him. While shooting the film on location in Miami one day, he noticed that a few of the young black actors were looking at the monitors and wearing his headphones to see the footage that had been shot. Something had changed: Now, perhaps, they could imagine themselves going on to make a movie whose success surpasses their greatest dreams.

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