I watched the final moments of the Academy Awards in cynical anticipation, waiting to see the exceptionally overrated La La Land be crowned best picture of the year. I had been rooting for Moonlight since the nominations were announced, but given how white mediocrity is usually celebrated over black excellence my standards were low.
And for a moment, my hunch was right. A stereotypical film with the plot of an Onion article received an accolade that many felt was undeserved. Thankfully, the powers that be screwed up and the presenters, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, received the torch from Steve Harvey for the biggest award show gaffe. Moonlight, the dark horse in the race, was given its due.
Moonlight is a coming of age story of a young black man growing up in a single-parent home, living in poverty and finding love with another man. The cast happens to be all-black—a first for a Best Picture-winning film. Each actor portrays the characters with sensitivity and nuance, including Mahershala Ali whose role as Juan earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The film’s director, Barry Jenkins and fellow cowriter, Alvin McCraney (who also happens to be queer), each won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
But Moonlight’s award is about more than seeing an underdog come out on top. This moment was a win for queer people of color, specifically black gay men who don’t often see reflections of themselves in media. And despite being overshadowed the academy’s blunder, an artsy film about two black men finding love with each other received the film industry’s highest honor and made similarly marginalized queer folk visible.
Let’s be clear, Moonlight is a film for queer people of color and its historic win as the first film with an all-black cast and LGBT-plot to receive Best Picture is nothing short of revolutionary. This is a film that was made for queer people of color, not everyone got it and not everyone was meant to. Moonlight is a F.U.B.U project with woke actors in front of the camera and a queer writer, McCraney, behind the scenes.
During the ceremony, Twitter users sounded off on the importance of this moment.
The story tomorrow should not be about the gaffe, it should be about how a love story featuring two black men won Best fucking Picture— Ira Madison III (@ira) February 27, 2017
Black men, in particular, have had our words taken, our styles appropriated, and our cultural contributions to the arts and entertainment overlooked. Moonlight’s win was an acknowledgment that our lives and our stories matter.
The question now is what’s next? The Oscars winners this year were actually diverse, but as we saw with the election progress is sometimes followed by a severe backlash. Is this going to be a flash in the pan like Halle Berry being the only black woman to ever receive an Oscar for Best Actress, which happened 16 years ago?
I’d like to be optimistic, but only time will tell.