Film / TVRace

barry jenkins talks racism during moonlight campaign

September 11, 2018
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Film festival season has kicked into high gear and we have a lot to look forward to like the adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic If Beale Street Could Talk, written and directed by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins. The film recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, followed by an onstage Q&A session that had the filmmaker getting candid about a racist incident he experienced which highlighted the importance of making this movie.

Jenkins, who started writing the adaptation before he even had the rights for the book, explained why he felt the film was so crucial and relevant today.  The writer and director brought up a scene where character Daniel Carty (played by Brian Tyree Henry) just got out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Daniel was talking to an old friend named Fonny (Stephen James) about how police had claimed that he stole a car but he doesn’t even know how to drive. Jenkins finishes his point with Daniel’s closing thought, “prison was a place where white men would do anything they wanted to you,” reported Vulture.

Jenkins went on to tell a personal story he had never shared before, describing a racist incident he experienced at the Governor Awards for the Academy while promoting Moonlight.

“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 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 nigger.’ 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 nigger.

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.” — Vulture

What Jenkins shared—in a nutshell—is the driving force of the myth of race and the structural peril it has unleashed on the children of the African continent. Barry Jenkins, a successful director celebrated for his groundbreaking work with Moonlight, was still just a “n*****” to that driver because that’s what the driver needed Jenkins to be. He needed this successful Black man to be inferior to him in some way— that is what white supremacy promised. Inferiority complex much?

It’s fitting that Jenkins told this story at a screening for an adapted James Baldwin book because I think we all know what the author would say to that driver: “I am not your Negro.”