Last year when promoting his Academy Award-winning film, Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins found himself at the Governor Awards for the Academy. It was kind of a big deal. He was heading to an after party (because it’s lit!) and trying to track down his driver. While waiting, the valet told Jenkins his driver called him the n-word and begrudgingly said he would likely win an Oscar.
To be clear, we’re talking about Barry Jenkins: A masterful director, supremely talented writer, and smart as a whip. But still, the n-word.
Fast-forward to 2018. Jenkins completed If Beale Street Could Talk, a film based on the book by legendary writer James Baldwin, which has already earned critical acclaim. Beale Street affirms blackness, and the characters—focusing on love and fortitude, which are both quite necessary to “weather the storm” that we, as black people, often face while existing in this world. An experience to which Barry Jenkins does not have impunity.
“It’s so very simple to bring someone down to your level in a certain way,” Jenkins said of his experience at the Governor Awards. “I learned that very tough love lesson, but a very sobering lesson. You know the distance between myself and this character, Fonny, is not very far but I think what I learned that night was, yeah there are people just all over who don’t want to see us prosper, I should say.”
If Beale Street Could Talk is in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday.