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‘If Beale Street Could Talk’: Barry Jenkins on How Women Helped Build Big Spirit Wins

The director spoke passionately about the need for better opportunities for women directors throughout the industry.

Barry Jenkins accepts the award for best director for "If Beale Street Could Talk" at the 34th Film Independent Spirit Awards, in Santa Monica, Calif2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards - Show, Santa Monica, USA - 23 Feb 2019

Barry Jenkins

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

At Saturday afternoon’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, Barry Jenkins took home the Best Director Prize for his work on “If Beale Street Could Talk.” In his gracious acceptance speech, the filmmaker saluted not only the women who worked on the screen adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, but his fellow nominees.

“I didn’t want to win this damn award. With everything going on in the world, it just feels strange to be up here,” Jenkins said, before reiterating a message that fellow “Beale Street” winner Regina King delivered after her recent Golden Globes win.

The film took home wins for Best Feature, Best Director, and Best Supporting Female. Jenkins described how he knew the film would not have succeeded without strong female perspectives.

“I had to check my directorial ego and learn,” Jenkins added. “I cannot make a movie about women without women’s voices at the forefront.”

“She said something very wise and very true. Women only make up four percent of studio directors and yet they make up 44 percent of the directors of the competition at Sundance and make up 60 percent who are nominated for this award,” Jenkins said. “If even just 30 percent of us agreed with Regina to, within the next 18 months, to produce or finance a film directed by a woman, the four percent would become the eight percent, would become the 12 percent, would become the 16 percent.

Most notably, Jenkins saluted “You Were Never Really Here” director Lynne Ramsay, who was up for the same award.

“I met Lynne in 2002 at the Telluride Film Festival. I hadn’t even made anything and she was so kind and took the time and told me what her process was,” Jenkins said. “I think this award has your DNA in it, my dear.”

Speaking to press backstage at the Spirits, Jenkins continued to praise his colleagues, while also talking about his changing sense of purpose in his career, given his recent awards success.

“I think the responsibility of the things we’re choosing to do and how we’re doing them and how we’re representing the canon…I can’t deny that I can’t just be an artist working in isolation and I have a responsibility to bear,” Jenkins said. “Which is fine because there are other people working in a much more difficult position who have much more responsibility to bear.”

Watch Jenkins’ acceptance speech below:

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