Director Barry Jenkins is looking back at dealing with racism.
During his new film “If Beale Street Could Talk”‘s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jenkins recalled a disturbing encounter ahead of his Academy Award win for “Moonlight” in 2016.
The 38-year-old director told the audience about a valet driver at one of the Oscar parties, “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’,” he said according to Vulture.
But as he was leaving, Jenkins was met by a “shocked” valet worker, “I’m like, ‘What’s up?’” he recalled. “He 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**ger.’ 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**ger.”
Jenkins says he couldn’t believe what he heard, “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?”
He then mentioned a particular scene in “Beale Street”, based on 1974 James Baldwin novel, that means so much to him since that valet encounter. The scene, Jenkins described, sees Brian Tyree Henry’s character getting out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the jail, he explains, is a place where white men can do whatever they want to the inmates.
“This is fucking it. This is it,” he said of the scene. “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 s**t right before. So if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone and we’ve got to tell these damn stories.”
“If Beale Street Could Talk” premiered Sunday night at TIFF and will hit theatres Nov. 30.