In the 88 Academy Awards ceremonies, never has there been a Black man nominated for both Best Director and Best Screenplay. Barry Jenkins just became the first, for the astonishing Moonlight, which also received a nomination for Best Picture. It may be many years more before there will a Black woman – or Hispanic person, or Arab person – to receive the same honors.
Furthermore, Moonlight editor Joi McMillon (working alongside Nat Sanders) has becomes the first Black woman to ever be nominated for Best Editing. Looking at the Moonlight credits in general, one finds many more women and Latino crew members than for the average film. This is in addition, of course, to the mostly Black cast, which comprises by far the best ensemble in film this year.
The Oscars have a reportedly terrible record of recognizing people of color and women, particularly in the major category of Best Director. Only one woman has ever won, and no non-White woman has ever been nominated. As for men, John Singleton became the first Black director nominated, with Lee Daniels following. Steve McQueen, for me the greatest English language director we have today, was nominated in 2014, for 12 Years a Slave, which went on to win Best Picture and Best Screenplay, while McQueen has yet to receive a win.
Billy Wilder is the only person to have ever won all three of these top awards – Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Picture – for The Apartment, in 1960.
Jenkins could become the first Black man to win Best Director – and he should. Moonlight is not only a beautiful and moving film that gives voice to a little seen yet much felt part of our world (and our selves), it is also a unique creation: a film for cinephiles as well as casual filmgoers, for critics as well as industry insiders. It is for everyone, and caters to nobody.
Moonlight has been nominated for a total of eight Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Actor (for the layered and devastating performance of Mahershala Ali), Best Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Original Music Score (Nicholas Britell’s exhilarating musical touch, which tells a parallel, equally powerful story), and Best Cinematography (James Laxton’s lush, textured, wonderfully lit surfaces).
The Oscars will air on February 26 — a night that will, no matters the results, belong to Moonlight.