The filmmaker’s coming-of-age drama Moonlight, about a gay African-American man growing up in Miami, is up for eight awards, including Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, at the 89th Academy Awards later this month (Feb17). Such an accomplishment marks the first time a non-white candidate has made all three categories, but for Jenkins it’s a feat that should have happened a long time ago.

“It’s bittersweet. I shouldn’t be the first. I’ll be happy when there’s no longer any space for firsts because it’ll mean those things have been done. I wouldn’t be the first person who’s merited this distinction,” he told Time. “I don’t understand how someone like Spike Lee has never been nominated for these three awards... But it’s important to note that the barrier is not mine to break. I made a piece of work. The barrier does not fall to me. The barrier belongs to the Academy.”

Lee has helmed cinema favourites like Do the Right Thing, which earned him a Best Writing Oscar nomination, and in 2016 he received the Honorary Award at the prestigious ceremony.

Moonlight has captured the hearts of viewers the world over thanks to his gritty, authentic storyline and Jenkins has received countless messages from strangers on social media thanking him for bringing such a real tale to the silver screen. He’s pleased to represent genuine people through his film and to shine a light on topics such as drug use in a way that hasn’t been done before.

“When you have such a lack of representation, such a lack of images, two things can happen. Either you start to feel like you’re voiceless, or people who don’t live in close proximity to you can conveniently start to think you don’t exist, that you’re invisible. When images do arise to fill that lack, they take on added importance,” he explained.

Moonlight has also earned star Naomie Harris a Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role nomination and the same in the male category for actor Mahershala Ali.