Barry Jenkins: My white driver called me the n-word during the Oscar season

Vanity Fair Oscar Party - Arrivals

Barry Jenkins won an Oscar for his wonderful and brilliant film Moonlight. He didn’t win Best Director – that went to Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land – but Moonlight won Best Picture, in one of the craziest entertainment moments of 2017, when Faye Dunaway said the wrong thing because they got the wrong envelope. Weirdly, Chazelle and Jenkins both have new films out this fall – Chazelle has First Man, and Jenkins has If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins’ film is an adaptation of a James Baldwin novel of the same name, all about a young black couple in the 1970s. The reviews out of TIFF are not flat-out wonderful, but a lot of critics liked it. While doing a discussion at TIFF, Jenkins spoke at length about race and what it means to be a black man in America, and then he shared a story about the Moonlight Oscar campaign and how his DRIVER called him the n-word. From Vulture:

“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. The Sunset Tower Hotel is this hotel that it’s very hard to get in and out of. The valet line is very short. So cars come in and they go out, they come in, they go out.

“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 n—er.’ 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—er.”

“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 f–king 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. So if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone and we’ve got to tell these damn stories.

[From Vulture]

Ugh, good lord. I always assume that every single African-American man and woman has this kind of story, or rather, multiple versions of this story because it’s happened to them many different times. Someone diminishing them, someone getting super-upset that a black person is wearing a $5000 suit or a $5000 evening gown. It’s just another way for people like the driver to “keep ‘em in their place.” I hope Barry Jenkins got his driver fired.

The 89th Annual Academy Awards Arrivals

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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27 Responses to “Barry Jenkins: My white driver called me the n-word during the Oscar season”

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  1. cherry says:

    What a heartbreaking story. Good for him to share it- we need to hear this.

    • ByTheSea says:

      We do. I’ve been called that word on Madison Avenue in New York City. While wearing an expensive suit and carrying my litigation bag (I’m an attorney).

  2. MinkFur says:

    White people hate when minorities are doing better than them.

  3. outoftheshadows says:

    Kudos to the valet for being a decent human being. That driver needed to be fired, and if he wasn’t Jenkins’ regular driver, I hope Jenkins also notified the company that hired him. Good Lord.

  4. Lala11_7 says:

    Until people of color are running public school systems…multi-billion corporations, seen on media platforms, etc.,. where it’s an accepted practice…and not JUST an exception to the rule…this inhumane stance will continue…

    Oh…and I would have used my influence to ensure that that Driver would be working somewhere else…

  5. mazzie says:

    This gets me so mad. Being born white is not an accomplishment, racist white people. It’s just something that happened and you have accomplished nothing.

    • Scarlet Vixen says:

      @Mazzie: YES!!! I wish we could all shout this from the rooftops until sh*tty white people GET IT. What have y’all done other than just be born white?? I am a white person, and I have never felt any more ‘special’ or ‘better than’ because of my whiteness. I grew up quite poor in a primarily non-white community, and even then as a kid I knew that I had privilege & was merely ‘lucky’ I had white skin. I don’t f*cking get white racism, and it constantly infuriates me.

  6. TheHufflepuffLizLemon says:

    I feel like this is the ONE place where white people need to be taking not only a stand, but the lead in this whole mess: in freaking white spaces where racists think they are safe. White spaces can be friend groups without diversity. They can be one on one conversations. They can be a board room (like the one I’m about to walk into in 45 minutes). They can be hiring panels where someone jokes about a name they think sounds “ghetto.” These shouldn’t necessarily BE white spaces, but sometimes they are, and we need to make sure we don’t allow subtle or overt racism in these spaces-because we’re allowing it to flourish in the dark, like freaking mushrooms.
    Also…who the F-CK just drops the n-word into a conversation with someone they don’t know? Have you no damn sense? THIS is what Trump’s America is-racists think they are safe.

    • Anna says:

      Exactly. It is not BIPOC job to solve racism; it is WHITE people who need to do the work. They and their ancestors got everyone into this mess and continue to benefit from it in every possible way. White people, handle this. It is not our job!!!!!

  7. NIKKI says:


    It doesn’t matter to whom someone like that is speaking with; what year it is; who’s in office.

    In 2009, I was called the same word by a coworker. She got upset about a correction I made on a job we were working on and in front of other people and quite loudly said: you f-ing n——- .

    I’ll never forget that moment. As I haven’t the other times I was called that word.

    So, yeah it’s not relegated to dark seedy spots. It’s a common occurrence if you are a person of colour – no matter your ethnicity.


  8. tw says:

    I hope he keeps telling this story and that others join in telling their stories. I hope they are louder than jackasses like Kanye and that this is in everyone’s face like Me Too.

  9. Onemoretime says:

    I feel like the words of Chris Rick will never not be true. He said a poor white man would never trade places with him & he’s rich. And he also said ain’t nothing more a white man with a penny hates more than a black man with a nickel. So sad but true in the year of 2018. Instead of getting mad at their wealthy 1% counterparts that keep all the wealth for themselves and their off springs , they just take it out on minority’s that are doing slightly better than they perceive to be.

  10. JoJo says:

    That’s how some white people feel that no matter what their occupation is they are superior to black people.I might be just a driver or a janitor or homeless but at least I’m not black, at least I’m not a N word.
    I attended University of Texas in Austin and when I attended there was a street next to campus nicknamed The Drag (Guadalupe).Some students called the homeless men who lived on the street Dragworms.I was called the N word by a homeless man who slept on the street.BTW he didn’t call me that word because I didn’t give him money,he just called me that as I walked by him sitting on the ground, for no reason.

    • AG-UK says:

      Oh no I lived in Austin for 4 years and went to High School in Houston and I am sure a lot going there think their s..t don’t stink. I liked Austin but felt it too small for me coming from NY and I felt the I35 divided minorities on one side whites on the other. Lucky no one called me the N word but outside of Austin got odd looks silence walking into little diners and staring.

    • Anna says:

      It’s all they have, this construction of Whitness that is nothing, it means nothing except the power they think it gives them. Again, White people created this mess and continue to benefit from it at every level. White people, you need to handle this. You need to speak out. You need to stand up. This is not BIPOC job to solve the bullshit you and your ancestors created.

  11. Janet says:

    So unshocking and gross. At this point the only thing that makes me madder than racism is people being in complete denial about what racism is. They think that just because they aren’t trying to string people up they are allowed to say shit like this and they are not racists. Two weeks ago I had a big fight and openly accused my uncle of being in the KKK. If he isn’t, it won’t be from lack of trying. Sick of horrible, despicable people, and of the complete refusal by the white people around me to understand that just because they don’t know what constitutes racism doesn’t mean they aren’t racist. Ignorance is bliss for white people and a death sentence to anyone who looks even remotely NOT white. Sick of this crap. Get me off this dumb planet.

  12. Lilly says:

    Thanks to the valet for telling him. It’s always the surprise of it that can hurt the most. I’ve mentioned before that I’m Native and a friend and I were discussing yesterday how they’ll attend Native events and say the most horrendous things. A blatant orange supporter was at a training yesterday for advocating for Native children. I can only hope she never actually “helps” us.

    When I lived in London my Black friends said, “oh you’re White,” which made sense compared to what they experienced in the UK. I was more that dreaded “exotic” person there. Australians never thought I was White, though. Living in Europe the worst, most numerous, racist experiences were always Australians. So, I’ve never wanted to go there. But, an Australian told me that was bs and they’re not racist. I just mention these as the caught by surprise, intentional attacks do sting more.

    Btw, thanks to allies speaking up, it’s more touching than you know.

  13. Miss Margo says:

    Barry Jenkins is such a good man. He probably wouldn’t even try to get the guy fired. He’s so talented and amazing and if you get a chance, see if Beale street could talk, SEE IT. It’s amazing!!!!