Director Barry Jenkins shares personal story about facing racism in Hollywood

Director and writer Barry Jenkins was riding high from the critically acclaimed success of his film, Moonlight in 2017 and the fact that it was nominated for an Academy Award landed him on cloud nine. Unfortunately, the celebration was tainted when Jenkins encountered a racist moment during what should have been the happiest time of his life.

The 38-year-old appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to promote his newest film, If Beale Street Could Talk and shared an alarming and troubling story to Vulture about facing racism at the Governor’s Awards two years ago.

“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,” Jenkins said.

“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.”

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He continued, “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 n—-.’ 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—–.”

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That pivotal moment put racism in perspective for Jenkins and the fact that it very much still exists no matter how austere your accomplishments.

“And this is when I’m wearing a $5,000 suit. I’ve just come from the Governor Awards,” he 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? Or some dude walking into a bar?”

Moonlight won the Best Picture award, but its triumph was marred when there was a mix-up with the envelopes containing the winning film’s name. La La Land was mistakenly named Best Picture before the correction was made on live television. By the time the mistake was realized, Jenkins and the Moonlight team barely had time to take the stage, let alone make a speech.