Many people know Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight and the upcoming drama If Beale Street Could Talk, which chronicles the life of a black couple after one of them is wrongfully arrested and sent to prison. They may not know, however, about the racism he has faced.
During a Q & A following a press screening for the movie, Jenkins opened up about an experience that reminded him of the still-prevalent nature of racism.
Vulture transcribed Jenkins's tale:
During awards season for Moonlight, I was at some big party. It was the Governor Awards for the Academy. It's an amazing event. It's the event you hear about the least, where they honor all of these folks. The woman who cut Lawrence of Arabia, the editor, she received a lifetime achievement award there. It's all these cars, everybody's in tuxedos, and there's an after-party at the Sunset Tower Hotel. The Sunset Tower Hotel is this hotel that it's very hard to get in and out of. The valet line is very short. So cars come in and they go out, they come in, they go out.
Jenkins's enjoyable evening quickly took a turn for the worse:
So I'm at this party and I was trying to get to my homeboy Justin Simien's after-party for his show Dear White People. My driver, he had a hard time getting in and out of the valet, because if you pull up and your person's not there, you've got to drive out and circle around. I come out and the valet person is just like, shocked. I'm like, "What's up?" He's goes, "Oh, you shouldn't get in the car with that dude." I'm like, "Why?" He goes, "Oh, because when I was out here before, he looked all agitated, and I said to him, 'What's wrong?' He goes, 'Oh, you know, nothing, I'm just sitting around here waiting around to pick up this n****r.' And then he smiled and said, 'Oh, and he's probably going to get nominated for Best Director.'" Subtext: But he's still just a n****r.
Even at the height of film industry success, Jenkins still felt the effects of racism.
And this is when I'm wearing a $5,000 suit. I've just come from the Governor Awards. So if it could happen to me with someone who's driving me, a person in power, what the hell do you think happens to some dude working a shift at the factory? Or some dude walking to the bar? So when we got to that scene I was like, This is fucking it. This is it. Everything we've been doing. Yes. Because I felt this at the height of my public awareness, whatever — [he] literally said, "This dude is probably going to be nominated for Best Director." And then he called me that shit right before. So if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone and we've got to tell these damn stories.
His story was also captured on video:
Twitter was infuriated on Jenkins' behalf.
Jenkins's new movie is set to make the impact he's hoping for. Reactions online have been overwhelmingly positive:
Jenkins was also asked if there was a moment during production when everything "clicked" for him. He told the gathered crowd that the scene between Tyree Henry and Stephen James, when Henry's character has just been released from prison, was particularly important in his mind:
That really solidified what we were doing. I felt very deeply that this film, even though it was set in 1973–74, that it was relevant to today.
Premiering November 30, If Beale Street Could Talk is primed to be another great work from one of America's very best young directors.
We hope Jenkins's great art will elevate us as a culture so that, eventually, no one will have to deal with discrimination.