An acquaintance told me that he walked out of the theater once he discovered that Moonlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was about black queer love. I was blindsided and offended. He fiercely insisted, however, that the depiction of gay black men was not his point of contention. Instead, he felt the advertisements for the film were misleading. The trailers for the movie didn't highlight the sexuality of the characters. He was adamant that this was the reason he left the theater. He felt misled.
I asked him, “What about The Sixth Sense? Did you walk out of that movie, too?”
“No! What’s that got to do with this?” he questioned, confused.
“Well, you said you walked out of Moonlight because the trailers mislead you. Yet, the trailers for The Sixth Sense led us to believe that Bruce Willis's character was alive when he was actually dead. You didn’t walk out of that, though. So, being misled by a film’s ad can’t really be your issue.”
He finally confessed, lowering his voice, saying “Honestly, I don’t want to get into this. I don't want to offend anyone. I just don’t believe in that kind of stuff”.
I wish I could have been angry with him for his archaic and toxic beliefs or with the fact that he reduced the life and experiences of other human beings to nothing more than “that kind of stuff”. Yet, I couldn’t be mad at him alone. His beliefs were just one psychic atom of a larger ideological organism that infects the minds of so many of us in the black community.
Queer & transphobia affects our community in profoundly damaging ways.
Early on, black boys and girls are taught that to be queer or trans is wrong. And whatever assumptions they have is confirmed by the acts of violence and, in some cases, death threats they receive on the daily. Black boys and girls are taught that they must follow strict gender guidelines: boys must like girls, and girls must like boys; no exceptions. The saying "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" proves that this homophobia is powered by both ignorance and religion.
The intersection of being both black and queer is probably the most stifling, restricting, painful, and marginalizing space to exist within -- just imagine systemic and institutional racism virulently combined with phobic dogma and zealous hatred. A person who is already navigating and surviving the dangers of being Black in America must now deal with added attacks based on sexuality and gender identity. That combination creates a life of consistent palpable mental anguish, which, in some cases, leads to self-destruction.
If one survives the internal battle, there is always the danger of violence from those in your own community. Even among the so-called “woke”, there is danger. Some people in the fight for black liberation hold twisted views of those who are queer or trans.
Then came Moonlight, a story written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Barry Jenkins. Like a rare soul food dish in a black kitchen, it is rich and simmers vibrantly.
Moonlight was met with massive acclaim. However, like in every black community, there were some caveats.
Many of us have similar tales of witnessing people leave the theater once it was revealed that Moonlight was about two black men in love. Offensive tweets, statuses, and memes surfaced. For some, seeing two black men in love was anathema.
Yet, at the 89th Academy Awards, Moonlight took home the trophy for Best Movie. The moment was almost overshadowed by the presenters, who announced the wrong film as winner.
The team behind La La Land had all but wrapped up their acceptance speeches when presenter Warren Beatty announced that Moonlight was the actual winner. Despite presentation errors, Moonlight triumphed. It became the first LGBTQ film in history to win the Best Picture Oscar.
Even more, its success is a triumph for black liberation; which means securing the rights of queer and trans people of color. We aren’t free until all of us are free. The separations and marginalization in our own community must end before we can truly achieve liberation.
For this reason, the success of Moonlight is a beacon of hope for the black LGBTQ community. It is a recognition that the movement to save black lives must truly include all black lives, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
It is a confirmation that black people can love who they truly love, be who they truly are, and feel assured that their love and identity is valid. It is a signal that black queer and trans people will no longer be relegated to shadowy neighborhoods, proverbial closets, the ballroom scene or the down-low.
Moonlight affirms the diversity of black sexuality and gender identity and with visceral intensity, celebrates us all as beautifully human. It ascends beyond the realm of entertainment. It becomes an act of rebellion: noble, honorable, and righteous.
The original name of the movie was In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. From now on, in the light of affirmation, they will always look golden.