Having money or status does not preclude anyone from experiencing racism, and director Barry Jenkins knows that first hand. At the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, he relayed an experience he had while promoting his film Moonlight—and said it’s important for everyone to speak out when it happens to them.
Jenkins’s latest film, If Beale Street Could Talk, had its world premiere at TIFF Sunday night. Variety reports that at the end of a Q&A session for the film, Jenkins shared a very personal story of how he experienced racism—even as he was amassing acclaim and success for his film.
Jenkins told the audience that during awards season, he was attending the Governor’s Awards for the Academy. He was attempting to leave the after party so that he could attend another party, and as he waited for his car and driver to pull up, he said the valet attendant gave him a warning.
Jenkins, as transcribed by Variety, said the following:
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’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? 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.
Too often, the victims of racism and oppression are made to feel as though they shouldn’t speak about it. Somehow, they are the “real racist” for even bringing it up.
As Jenkins said, these things can and do happen to anyone. When it does, it is important to acknowledge it and speak out on it. The mistreatment will never cease if it is allowed to exist in silence.