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 are whole Black families’ and intelligent Black women’s stories ever going to be good enough? How many times are messed-up Black women and abused Black children elevated on screens around the world? 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.
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 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 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 even 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 see why the actresses complained 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.