I am not clapping for Moonlight just because I am Black.

I could not care less the creators and cast of Moonlight are Black. I will believe we are getting somewhere in America when a married Black couple fighting to make it and intelligent, educated Black women working are the surprise Oscar winners of the night.

An epic 3-hour movie like 2015’s Boyhood, filmed over 12 years of watching real White actors grow older as a family by the year, was not good enough to be an American boy coming-of-age story to win Best Picture.

So how does a 110-minute, low-budget movie that uses three separate Black actors to chart a Black male drug dealer coming-of-age sexually-repressed and abused in several scenes qualify? After Halle Berry and Mo’nique were traumatizing their Black child in Monster’s Ball and Precious, I was satisfied that story of us was covered. This is now overkill.

Even Moonlight‘s main actress said she was not enthused about yet another negative portrayal of Black women blasted out on film. My question is: Why is everyone else so excited? This is not an exploration of Black pain and sexuality as portrayed by 12 Years a Slave, intent on showing what Blacks were held captive within. Moonlight shows Black people who willingly make poor decisions that hurt themselves and other people for life. The fact there are astonishing directorial and cinematic glossings do not change this fact.

There were two better Black-cast/themed films to be honored as a Best Picture of 2016. If Fences or Hidden Figures had made the headlines, I would gladly clap and celebrate The Academy and America for reversing its racism. But how many times are messed-up Black women and abused Black children elevated on screens around the world? How many times are whole Black families’ and intelligent Black women’s stories not good enough? How many times are the damaged, weakened and unconscious Blacks in America put on a pedestal as the best art? I understand the director’s and original playwright’s personal life stories are important. I would have enjoyed seeing a film about their lives right now.

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The Black female cast of Hidden Figures surrounds Katharine Johnson, one of NASA’s first “human computers” who calculated equations and figures essential for human space travel./ image courtesy of NASA

 

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Playwright August Wilson (1945-2005)/image courtesy of AugustWilson.net.

August Wilson is an heroic American playwright, but still struggling to make it into classroom textbooks alongside Eugene O’Neil and Arthur Miller. His Fences is one of the most enduring, time-honored American stories ever told- for people of any race. No matter how poor and defeated they are, his characters make honest livings and fight for the American Dream the right way. Its family and characters, though flawed, are unified.

Viola Davis, who won Best Supporting Actress for playing the wife and mother in Fences, has played a drug addict who neglected her son. Denzel Washington directed her in this role in The Antwoine Fisher Story. But her character is in the background, and has no words. The movie is about how this Black boy found Black people to rise him up from that past. His mother only appears later, as he indicts her for leaving him in harm’s way to figure out on his own how to make something of himself. So, Black films can and should show our complexities. But this film, which acknowledges our community’s weaker members but spotlights the stronger ones who build it, received no Oscar nominations let alone wins.

Hidden Figures has actual star power, led by excellent veteran Oscar nominees and even a winner. The Black female characters in both movies carry themselves with strength and grace. They are smart and spiritual. They respect their bodies. They guard their children fiercely. They are respected pillars of their communities. In Fences, the Black son of a woman like this goes on to serve his country and return a mature, whole man.

I write novels featuring all types of Black people in them- included those with the weak minds and unhealthy lifestyles I just listed. However, there is a balance and depth in a novel that is unable to be explored in film. Outsiders do not understand these people, and now a whole slew of folks are going to go to the theater just to get another titillating peek at treacherous Black life they imagine. It is not a fault or flaw of Moonlight‘s creators.

It is just the same old same old.

Black Americans must be messed up, promiscuous, abused, violent, on drugs or selling them for mass celebration in Hollywood. They can creak by playing Mammies and slaves or tragic heroes of history, but never educated or empowered Black people regularly played by Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Sanaa Lathan and so many more we never see at the Oscars.

The pretend liberal population- rampant in Hollywood- loves to fast-track images of pathology, violence, hypersexuality, drugs and confusion with black and brown faces on screens around the world. Then they can stand up, pat themselves on the back and take credit that their benevolence and good mercy has helped the poor chirren who have such a tragic life to live. In reality, they avoid those communities and their people like the plague.

Meanwhile, bigots around the world and across America just get to keep believing The Cosby Show is a fantasy, Michelle Obama is a man, Barack Obama is a dummy terrorist who wasn’t a citizen and Kalisha Buckhanon with nappy hair and dark skin is shocking for speaking better English than most. How were people surprised at our last election result?

I would not be clapping for Moonlight if I was LGBQT.  I loved the 2014 Cannes Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, though I could understand the actresses’ complaints about extended love scenes that did not deepen the story. It would have been an entirely different film if the main couple had been surrounded by beatings, drugs and mental abuse. Something tells me these are not circumstances a studio would fund to show White women and girls falling in love with each other or coming of age sexually; they get flowers. I would have applauded a film where a Black boy discovered himself and his sexuality without sanitized mentors who sell drugs, a scary mother who abuses him into funding her drugs and a life of crime waiting to supply drugs to other Black mothers like his own.

25 years from now, a new generation will still have no clue who August Wilson or Katharine Johnson are. However, they will have a “classic” Best Picture still popping up. It will use pretty arthouse shots and soaring classical music to show them Black women were crackheads who neglected and abused their sons to grow up into emotionally-damaged drug dealers. This has got to stop. I loved Moonlight as a movie to talk about after a Saturday night date- not something to memorialize for all time as a story of my people, our history and our artistry.

7 thoughts on “I am not clapping for Moonlight just because I am Black.

  1. Kalisha, I have to respectfully disagree. I hear you, though. There is definitely an element of disaster-pornography when it comes to stories about THE Black experience in America. People LOVE to see just how we suffer, and especially if that suffering seems self-inflicted (as in addiction stories, etc.) However, I think neither ‘Moonlight’ nor any single work by Black artists (no matter their medium) should be charged with conveying “THE Black experience”. It’s too high a bar to reach, and unfairly constraining, because as you point out, there is more than ONE Black Experience. ‘Moonlight’ to me was about invisibility and self-realization and pain, and conveyed those themes on a beautiful canvas. If the depictions make us weary, or angry, I think we set about deconstructing and destroying the things in our society that make those depictions not just fiction, but a reality for still far too many. And for me, I don’t care if people who are not of my community still–against all evidence to the contrary–believe that crack-mothers and abused babies are the sum total of our communities. I care than Black artists told their truth, did it in a way that was beautiful, and were recognized for it. The motives of those who gave the recognition is of secondary importance to me . The art itself was beautifully rendered.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Nia, I never said Moonlight was not beautiful. And the film has been achieving recognition since it came out, as I attended a special screening of it in Chicago and New York. When discussing something like the Academy Awards, other peoples’ motives are paramount because those awards are voted on. There is a pattern of what is voted on when it comes to portrayals of Black life. American Jewish people would be up in arms if nearly every exceptionally-recognized film about them focused on a few among them who are abusers or criminals, rather than those in their communities who survived trauma to go on to run something like Hollywood and mass intergenerational wealth in general. -Kalisha

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Kalisha!! Amen!! May I Please post your comments to my FB page and send to a couple of my friends via e-mail?

    My husband and I were just communicating about the SAME points you mention in your thoughts!! My Goodness! We thought we were the only ones who were thinking the same thoughts!! Just so tired of the negative images about our people!

    Thank you very much! Take Care, Tracib

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Traci, Thank you! Feel free to share. I have no problem with people knowing my thoughts. I thought I was the only one…glad I am not. I am happy whenever any artists are recognized and achieve success, because this is a hard life. But, there were some better choices in 2016. Many Blessings, Kalisha

      Like

  3. Hi Kalisha!!
    Amen!! May I Please post your comments to my FB page and send to a couple of my friends via e-mail?

    My husband and I were just communicating about the SAME points you mention in your thoughts!! My Goodness! We thought we were the only ones who were thinking the same thoughts!! Just so tired of the negative images about our people!

    Thank you very much!
    Take Care,
    Traci
    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Kalisha! Wow- reading your piece made a lot of “ping!” sounds go off in my thoughts. Just this week me and a good friend were talking about Halle Berry’s performance in “Monsters Ball.” When she won an Oscar for her performance and Denzel Washington won one for “Training Day” that year, I felt much the way you do about “Moonlight,” today. But I think if I saw “Monsters Ball,” today, I would be more focused on its story – the story it must be allowed to be unattached to film industry awards. Before, I was seeing it with the wincing (and hungry!) eyes of wanting to see “educated and empowered Black people” on the big screen. I LOVED “Boyhood”! I LOVED “Fences”! I enjoyed “Hidden Figures” (but because I read the book, first, I felt that the film treatment was a tad superficial; and Katherine Johnson’s real life trips to the bathroom at NASA were not slapstick, but I digress). “Moonlight”? “Moonlight” to me was about WAY MORE than a black son of a crackhead mother who discovers himself and his sexuality. I saw a collaborative work of artistry on the screen. I saw a story of emotional truth about human beings. I saw unloved people struggling against that entrapment. (Really, if I’m going to go on and on about it I should write my own blog post!) I’ll stop here. Thank you, though for pressing all the right buttons with this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Leslie, Thank you for appreciating this post. Yes, I thought Hidden Figures was a little hoaky too, but that was kind of my point. It was so refreshing to see Black women like that in a movie.

      I keep clarifying I do think Moonlight is a beautiful film cinematically. And it is about way more than my reduction for this response. I know Chirones. I know that world. The treatment was very pretty and shots very intelligent.

      I could have written a book about it, but it is just a post. Yes, I felt as you did in the Halle/Denzel year: when Training Day is this cop cult classic for people who would never sit through Malcolm X, his much better acting role. This is structural racism disguised as cultural appreciation.

      It is obvious that our most far-reaching cultural medium of film wants to keep the world in a trance about what Black lives are like on average, circulating our most unusually sad situations so often so it can be mistaken as the Black norm. For a Best Picture honor that lasts a lifetime once all the others have been forgotten, there were better choices.

      -Kalisha

      Liked by 1 person

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