Let’s Talk About Moonlight— Not White Graciousness

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On Sunday, an arthouse film that centers on both Black people and queerness, and that went on to earn over $22 million with a budget of just $1.5 million, made history by winning Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards. But while Moonlight‘s historic successhas made news, its story has been retold as one about the virtues of white graciousness.

In the days following the now infamous mix-up in which La La Land was wrongly declared the winner, much time has been spent praising La La Land‘s cast and crew for displaying characteristics that fall under the category of basic human decency. Much of that attention has been paid to producer Jordan Horowitz, who has inspired headlines such as “The ‘La La Land’ producer who declared ‘Moonlight’ the winner stepped up when it mattered,” “How La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz became the Oscar fiasco’s humble hero,” and “‘La La Land’ producer Jordan Horowitz is the truth-teller we need right now.”

These stories all convey the underlying subtext that everyone associated with La La Landis magnanimous just for allowing Moonlight to win the award that it had actually won. The obsession with Horowitz’s behavior is bizarre—and the fact that many commentators have chosen to focus on how noble and heroic a white man was for merely telling the truth, as if that kind of basic decency is anomalous, revolts me. What exactly did anyone think would happen? Someone made a mistake and someone else behaved the way anyone in that situation should. Yes, it’s unfortunate that those folks had to face that kind of public embarrassment—but they did not win.

And now, there is the Variety cover story featuring the director of La La Land, Damien Chazelle, and the director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins. On the cover: a smiling Chazelle and a smiling but slouched-down Jenkins on the cover. The headline? “Amazing Grace.”

Schmaltz has its merits on occasion, but this is exhausting.

It has been pointed out that traditionally the winner of the Best Director award is given the cover and interview; and Variety co-editor in-chief Claudia Eller has explained as much in an editor’s letter. If everything had proceeded as usual, then Chazelle (who took home the Best Director award) would have been honored solo, meaning Jenkins—as he himself pointed out—is the “guest.” If the Variety editors decided that, given the circumstances, they would forgo tradition, such is their right. Even so, that concept—”Amazing Grace”—still plays into the heroic graciousness narrative. It’s not a headline that highlights their artistic achievement; it focuses more on how nicely one of them acted on that stage.

Read the rest at Elle.

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