Barry Jenkins Reveals His Driver Called Him the N-Word Leading Up to His Oscar Nomination


At the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Sunday night, Barry Jenkins shared a personal story about an experience he had with a racist driver just as he was cresting a wave of newfound fame and recognition, before Moonlight won Best Picture.

In a Q&A after the premiere of Jenkins’ latest film If Beale Street Could Talk, one person asked the director if there was a moment “during production when everything clicked for him,” according to Vulture. Jenkins described a scene in the movie in which Daniel Carty (played by Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry), who has been released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, tells the movie’s lead Fonny (Stephan James) about the abuses of black men at the hands of white men in prison, and outside of it.

Jenkins explained how a personal memory from Moonlight’s award season elevated the experience of directing this scene into a profound moment of realization. It’s worth reading Jenkins’s entire remarks (Vulture has transcribed them), but here’s the most important part, which happened as Jenkins waited for his driver at the Governor’s Awards, who was forced to pull out of the pick-up zone and circle back 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 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?

He ends with: “So if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone and we’ve got to tell these damn stories.” Read the whole thing here.

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