Barry Jenkins wasn’t thinking about taking down a ‘white, fascist musical’

'Moonlight' premiere

Now that I’m a few weeks removed from seeing La La Land, I’ve gotten used to the idea that it’s going to win a lot of Oscars and my anger about that has dissipated somewhat. I still believe Moonlight is a superior film, and I still hope that Moonlight wins Best Picture and that Barry Jenkins wins Best Director. But I’ve resigned myself to the idea that at best, I think those awards will be split, with La La Land picking up either Picture or Director and Moonlight picking up the other. Who know though? There is a quiet backlash against La La Land, so maybe that backlash will be flourishing by the time the Oscars roll around.

A few weeks back, artist Elon Rutberg – perhaps best known for his collaborations with Kanye West – tweeted that La La Land is “fascist” because it’s being used to sedate the populace, and that the escapism is a way of weaponizing “dangerous naïveté.” Rutberg also said the movie was “an act of destructive naïveté in a historical moment requiring depth, clarity, and refined thought.” If I had to guess, I would say that Rutberg meant that at this particular moment in America, we don’t need a film about white people saving jazz and singing weakly and acting twee. I bring up those now-deleted tweets because Barry Jenkins made a funny reference to them.

Moonlight writer-director Barry Jenkins just got back from an European tour promoting the movie, and he was shocked at what this year’s Oscars race has done for his profile. “When I was in Holland, my face was everywhere!” Jenkins said on The Awards Show Show this week, recalling the strange sensation of people honking at him on the street to lend support. With 8 Oscar nominations, Moonlight is second only to the 14 given to Damien Chazelle’s modern musical La La Land, and Jenkins laughed at the notion that both directors have suddenly become big in Europe. “Everywhere there was a newscast in Germany or Holland about the Oscars, it was ‘Damien and Barry Jenkins,’” he said. “It’s like we’re in a battle royale.” Moonlight is touted by some as the only film that can defeat La La Land … an awkward narrative for Jenkins, who has become good friends with Chazelle over this awards season.

“I wasn’t on set thinking, ‘I’m going to make a film that can take down the ‘white, fascist musical,’ just like I’m sure Damien wasn’t on set thinking, ‘I’m going to make a movie that can take down the gay, black, hood love story told in an art-house way,’” said Jenkins. “It just doesn’t work that way. Just like all these movies [like Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures] are being framed as a response to #OscarsSoWhite — I think they all arose in a vacuum, and they just arrived at this moment. It’s great for people out there who need a narrative, but we’re just trying to make art.”

That’s not to say that Jenkins isn’t conscious of all the strategizing that goes into the Oscars race. “I’m on this podcast, so very clearly, I’m participating in awards season,” he told Awards Show Show hosts Kyle Buchanan and John Horn. “So much is at stake with the results of all these things we’re going through … and yet I don’t want those results to affect my feeling, my appreciation, my pride in the work that we did.”

And at the very least, awards season gives his eloquent cast the chance to speak passionately from the heart, as Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali did last weekend with a highly praised speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. “It’s much easier to be silent than it is to speak up,” said Jenkins, who admits that he watched Ali’s moving speech “through blurry eyes.” And if Moonlight does prevail on Oscars night, will he follow suit? Jenkins smiled: “If I’m so lucky to give a speech, maybe I’ll say a little somethin’.”

[From Vulture]

Ha, I wonder if Barry Jenkins – who is nobody’s fool – knew that if he said the words “La La Land” and “fascist” together, that would be the headline everyone used, even if he was actually making fun of that idea. I believe that Barry and Damien have probably become friendly over the awards season, just as I believe that both men are both actively campaigning and working to win those Oscars. In any case, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that La La Land is fascistic, I will say that I have my fingers crossed for a substantial La La Land backlash.

Photos courtesy of WENN, Getty.

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18 Responses to “Barry Jenkins wasn’t thinking about taking down a ‘white, fascist musical’”

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  1. Locke Lamora says:

    I was really really underwhelmed by LaLaLand, so I do hope Moonlight takes the best picture Oscar, because it is a much superior film.
    I have also seen Land of Mine and it was amazing. It makes me wish it was in the Best Picture, and not Best Picture in a Foreign Language category.

    And I think Barry knew exactly what he was doing when he said those words together.

    • vaultdweller101 says:

      Seriously, though, how did La La Land ever get in the Oscar race? It’s not totally awful, but it’s 100% not the best picture of…any year, ever.

      • vespernite says:

        Absolutley not Oscar worthy! I agree! Emma Stone’s horrible singing was just too much! And all the doe eyed shots, I was like enough already! All I could think was there were better qualified Broadway stars who could have at least elevated the film artistically. Other than John Legend they didn’t think to cast any other known artists. I was so disappointed. My 15 year old daughter wasn’t even impressed and that shit was hella twee! I can’t hate on Ryan though, he is superbly Ryan in everything. If Emma wins Best Actress I’ll never watch or read about the Oscar’s again. Emma take a seat, its the right thing to do, especially after the whole ALOHA debacle. Girl, you will have other, more deserved chances.

  2. lisa says:

    Moonlight is everything! run to the theater people

    i think la la land is well made and well directed considering what they were working with, which is very lightweight. it’s sort of pleasant. but it is being over gifted with noms and awards.

  3. Miss Grace Jones says:

    I actually get everything that writer was saying though I’m sure people are going to say he’s being over dramatic. On that note, I adore Barry Jenkins.

  4. Caitiecait says:

    Maybe he meant that Whiplash was fantastic? Same director.

  5. Ramona says:

    Aside from the fact that Emma Stone comes with serious mainstream star power and Ryan Gosling with major artist cred, Damien is also well known to voters after Whiplash. Dont forget that Manchester By The Sea is also nominated for Best Picture and Matt Friggin Damon has been bringing his “aw shucks” charm to interviews as producer. Moonlight is the better of the three in my opinion but Oscars are about campaigns and their only weapon, Brad Pitt, is hobbled by his personal life drama.

    I think its going to be The Color Purple all over again. (For the yungins, The Color Purple went in with 11 nominations and left with nothing. That classic film still holds the record for biggest Oscar loser.)

  6. Cait says:

    Selfishly, can I just say: “Moonlight” is one of the best things to come out of my alma mater in a long, long time, and I’m so excited for what it means for up and coming filmmakers or those hoping to go to film school. I hope Jenkins and his fellow ‘Noles inspire so many others to tell stories.

    • Adrienne says:

      Recent FSU Film School alum here! Couldn’t agree more with everything you said :) Moonlight is just a gorgeous piece of storytelling, and goddamn do Barry and Co. deserve every bit of success. (And his shade game is second to none.) I currently work with the editors of Moonlight (also FSU!) and they’re pretty much expecting to lose out to Blah Blah Bland in most categories… Fingers crossed that they’re proven wrong! Hollywood loves nothing more than movies about themselves, however, so we shouldn’t hold our breath…

  7. Margo S. says:

    I watched the Hollywood reporters directors roundtable & Damien and Barry had some very sweet moments. Apparently both of them had watched the others first feature film and were really impressed and inspired. It’s neat that both men are quite young and talented and able to talk about how insane it all must be!

    For me, I didn’t think lala land was a WOW film. I actually really loved Whiplash. I was very impressed. Lala was just OK to me. Moonlight in the other hand. Oh. My. God. So effing good. Can’t get it out of my head. Such talent. I’m looking forward to oscars this year! Go Barry!

  8. Shijel says:

    I’ve not yet seen La La Land and I’m not sure I want to. I got back from the cinema a few hours ago and I was seeing Moonlight. I am -absolutely- rooting for Moonlight in its categories. Some of the best cinema I’ve seen in years.

  9. QQ says:

    kee Keees!! Barry’s Elegant SHade Moves GIVE ME THE LIFE FORCE!

  10. Manjit says:

    Real life is so unremittingly bizarre and dark at the moment if we can’t have a bit of escapism in cinema, it’s a sad time indeed.

  11. serena says:

    I’m crossing my finger for Moonlight to win on La La Land.

  12. Ana says:

    I personally didn’t like La La Land much, I feel it’s very overrated, but the reason for the backlash is so absurd. A movie is “fascist” because it’s just pure escapism? What? So all the movies made during the World War II are fascist too, right? It’s beyond ridiculous. The movie was made way before Trump even got to power and you know, people want to be able to distract themselves every once in a while from all the hideousness there’s everywhere around now. And while there might be backlash from some media and people with agendas, I doubt the biggest chunk of the Academy will agree.

    And how is it about white people saving jazz? Someone didn’t understand the movie…

    • Lexie says:

      Thank you for saying everything I was going to, including the part about movies (musicals, no less!) during WWII.

      Also… maybe someone can explain to me what I missed about Moonlight because… guys, I thought that was the most boring, non-story I’ve ever seen. There was no story! It was a portrait of a life and I fully understand the importance of such a story finally being put to film and made mainstream, but a portrait of a life does not a good movie make.

    • Marianne says:

      I didn’t personally find La La Land to be the best film of 2016 (I would award that to Arrival) but I still really enjoyed it and don’t get all the hate around it. Not dislike….but straight up hate. I too, just don’t get the whole “its about a white man saving jazz”. Its not. Like, Ryan’s character is passionate about jazz (shocker Damian Chazelle is passionate about jazz) and he does talk about how its a dying art form, but its not like its the central story of the film. And if anything John Legend’s character is the one who brings it back in the spotlight again.

      • Jeesie says:

        That’s the thing I really don’t get. Even at the start of the film, before Legend’s character calls him out, he’s not on some ‘saving jazz’ mission. He loves jazz, he’s obsessed with it, he loves playing it and he wants to surround himself with it in his own club. It’s his own personal dream. He’s not trying to change the industry or the world, he just wants his own little club where he can play what he loves.