Things to Learn from Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins, the director of Academy Award winning film Moonlight, recently visited Bucknell to deliver the keynote address of the Second Annual Diversity summit. While highlighting important issues included in the theme of the summit, which was Identity, Inclusion & Social Transformation: Centering Gender, Power and Privilege, Jenkins combined the main themes of his film, Moonlight, and his own personal experiences to talk about his perception of the world. Moonlight tells the story of a gay black man growing up in an impoverished city in Miami, so he proves the importance of storytelling at such a crucial and controversial time in our nation’s history.

Jenkins focused on both his film and his experiences throughout his opening statement and the Q&A. He began the talk by describing his interesting journey throughout filmmaking. Having grown up in an impoverished family in Miami, he had a sort of atypical experience towards his ultimate achievement of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture just a few weeks ago. After noting several times that it was important for the audience to remember that he had “a much lower SAT score than most likely all of the students at Bucknell’s scores,” Jenkins did a very beautiful job of displaying how success can be achieved through love, passion, and never being afraid to show the world your thoughts and ideas. Noting his view of the world as "a melancholic optimist," these are some of the biggest takeaways of his important and moving speech.


1. Interests can diminish all differences.

When asked a question from an audience member regarding if Jenkins ever felt left out as a black male attending a mainly white school, Jenkins laughed and said how lucky his experience had been. He was a member of the small, 30 person film school at Florida State. Because of the program’s size and the similar interest of film-making shared by the entire group, issues of gender, race, class, and identity were almost non-existent. Jenkins smiled as he recalled the disappearance of all social issues amongst the students; they were simply an excited, young group of children anxious to help one another out


2. Gender does matter, especially in terms of power.

Jenkins explained how one of the first things he noticed on this campus is the uneven ratio of boys to girls (there are more girls on Bucknell’s campus than boys). On the other hand, he similarly noticed how all of the fraternities have large, beautiful homes, while all of the sororities forced to share one building with a floor dedicated to each organization. Of course this issue has been brought up countless times over the years, but why is it this way? Why does society decide which gender, races, and socioeconomic statuses have the power? Why does society feel the need to put gender into two categories? Although he tries to highlight untold stories in his films by showing characters he believes are often on the fringes of stories instead of the focus, he never tried to sugarcoat the idea that immense issues exist in our society throughout his talk.


3. If you feel passionate about something, then tell the world about it.

This idea is evident in the story of Moonlight. Barry Jenkins explained how he had never seen as scene in which a black man romantically cooks for another black man, or a scene in which a black man caresses a black boy as he teaches him to swim. He explained how rare it was to see a romantic scene in media between two young boys, let alone two black boys. He encouraged the audience to share things that we like, to show others posts on social media that have touched us in a way. Our generation has the gift of internet and social media, and we should use it to our advantage by sharing things we are passionate about, regardless of how society may view those certain things.


4. Dreams can be a reality.

Regardless of differences in race, gender, aspirations, and class, obstacles will always stand in our way. It is only through hard work and defeating the obstacles in which our dreams can somehow become true. Barry Jenkins would never have believed ten years ago that he would somehow be receiving Oscars for his work, but his dedication, master of his craft, and love for what he did allowed him to become the success he is today.

Barry Jenkins was humble; he asked the audience how many people had seen Moonlight and was shocked when a majority of the audience raised their hands. Barry Jenkins was compassionate; he was brought to tears when a student in the audience explained how Moonlight had changed his life and thanked Jenkins for creating something so beautiful. Barry Jenkins was genuine; he answered all questions, some of which were controversial and tough, with an answer from his heart. I think we can all learn a lot from Barry Jenkins, not just from his success, his views, and his work, but from the way he presents himself as person in this world.