What Comes After “Moonlight?”

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In the past few months, the court jester of white nationalism was elected president over a much more qualified and deserving candidate, Tom Brady collected yet another Super Bowl ring, and Adele’s 25 won over Beyoncé’s Lemonade for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. It has been nothing but one reminder after another that being the best doesn’t translate to getting what you deserve, that cheaters do, in fact, prosper, and, most of all, that whiteness trumps everything. So I did not anticipate that Moonlight would manage to skirt past La La Land and win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. Instead, I wondered—with or without a Best Picture win, what will come after the success of Moonlight?

An Oscar for Best Picture is monumental. But it won’t necessarily yield the results Black men who identify as gay, queer, single gender loving, or any other turn of phrase that translates to “not straight” truly need in terms of wider representation. Halle Berry became the first Black actor to win Best Actress in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball, yet she struggled for years to have many of her projects in development actually get made and released.

It should not have been this way, but that is the way of Hollywood.

To that end, I want to celebrate Moonlight for what it has proven, outside of the Academy’s recognition. For one, an art house film centering on Black male sexuality and masculinity in a nuanced, complicated way, and broken into three parts without any huge resolution, moralizing, or white savior has made more than $22 million in fewer than 1,200 theaters. That is quite the accomplishment for a film budgeted at $1.5 million. The same can be said of its international gross, which Deadline notes could be as much as $40 million worldwide, an unusual achievement for a serious film without A-lister star clout.

All too often, Black filmmakers are told that their works have limited appeal outside of America. Black people can walk on nearly any part of this world and see our cultural impact, yet somehow, we are to believe that we cannot sell our stories abroad. For any Black film to annihilate such absurdity with its demonstrated success is something to be celebrated, especially when it depicts a minority within a minority. Moonlight is beautiful for many reasons, but what makes it most stunning is that it adds layers to characters we often only see as caricatures.
Its rare brilliance has not been appreciated by everyone. When I read English critic Camilla Long’s much maligned Sunday Times review of the film, I didn’t initially give a solitary damn about anything she had to say. Everything ain’t for everybody—and anyone who launches a Moonlight review by describing the film as “a film about gay love in the black ghetto” probably shouldn’t have bothered. Other writers have thoroughly and intelligently tackled Long’s review, but there is one aspect of Long’s piece that particularly rankles when considering Moonlight at the end of awards season.

Read the rest at ELLE.

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