Even after getting his big break with “Moonlight,” filmmaker Barry Jenkins says he still faces discrimination and racial slurs.
At a Q&A for his new film “If Beale Street Could Talk” at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jenkins was asked if there was a moment where the social importance of the James Baldwin novel he was adapting hit him personally. Jenkins responded by telling a story of something he experienced at the 2016 Academy Governors Awards, a gala event held prior to the Oscars and which took place just before he won the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars for “Moonlight.”
The filmmaker explained that the after-party took place at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Hollywood, a tightly packed part of town where limo drivers have to keep driving around the block if the celebs they are picking up aren’t ready. When Jenkins arrived for his limo, the valet warned him that he shouldn’t get in the limo assigned to him.
“He goes, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t get in the car with that dude,'” Jenkins recounted. “He goes, ‘When I was out here before, [the driver] 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.'”
Jenkins connected this to a scene in his film where Daniel Carty, played by Brian Tyree Henry, talks about how he was sent to prison for stealing a car even though he doesn’t know how to drive, and how his sentence was marked by daily harassment by the white inmates.
“This was when I’m wearing a $5,000 suit. I’ve just come from the Governor Awards,” Jenkins said. “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? So when we got to that scene I was like, ‘This is f—-g it. This is it. Everything we’ve been doing.'”
“If Beale Street Could Talk” will be released in theaters on November 30. Watch Jenkins discuss the film in the clip above.