The latest project from Moonlight writer and director Barry Jenkins is If Beale Street Could Talk, about a black couple who’s torn apart when the husband is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. (You can watch the trailer here.) The movie debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, and during the question-and-answer session with the crowd, the Oscar winner told a story about a moment of racism he experienced while promoting Moonlight.
“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,” Jenkins said. “So I’m at this party and I was trying to get to my homeboy Justin Simien’s after-party for his [Netflix] 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.” He continued:
“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?”
Jenkins compared the discrimination he faced to something that happens in the 1970s-set Beale Street (you can read about the scene here; light spoilers). “I was like, This is f*cking 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 sh*t right before,” he told the audience. “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 opens on November 30.