It is Oscars’ Eve. Among the starlit red carpets and anxious artists, movies will be crowned with the highest honors in Hollywood. People will tune in, winners will cry and speak out against le-cheeto (typical of the “Leftist-Hollywood-Elite”) and at the culmination of it all, one film will enter the ranks of “the greatest” films of all time. Amongst those nominated are brilliant films like Fences and Lion (both narratives of people of color that go beyond tropes and fully integrate the realities of our white-patriarchal-colonial world). The cinema award season usually pulls in two heavy contenders for the coveted spot (not coveted for its ego-boost, but it is now well understood, especially amongst producers and distribution companies, that the winner of the crown is bound to make a shiny buck). The two Titans this year are Blah Blah Land (forgive the misspelling, but I refuse to take the film seriously) and Moonlight.
Bland Bland Land has dominated the swards season, getting another coveted award, Best Musical at the Golden Globes, but was met on equal standing by Moonlight who won best Drama, both top honors. Virtually everyone expects Landfall to win Oscar-Ultima, with a few hoping for the greatest upset in cinema since (insert everything in cinema). But the Oscars 2017 are poised to be the third act in the #OscarsSoWhite Trilogy, despite it having several nominees of color throughout several categories, and Moonlight being the only match against Blaland, as surely the White Male dominated Hollywood kingdom will award one of the most mediocre films of the 21st century, and a painstakingly problematic one (Mr. Gosling and his white savior-complex for Jazz) the top golden statue. We will have suffered through 3 years of unbearable whiteness.
But this isn’t about the presumptive winner.
This is about Moonlight.
For anyone who knows me, they know of my passion and dedication to cinema, not in the professional sense (but hopefully, one day) but as a scholar and someone who enjoys the movies. Everyone also knows that Moonlight is my favorite film (I had not had a favorite film until Moonlight) and that I am constantly raving about it, praising it with the most extra FB status updates, reading everything written about it, following it in every manner possible. When I see people, eventually the question of “Have you seen Moonlight?” comes out roaring from my mouth, gasps when the response is a no. But aside from the very few conversations I’ve had on why I love Moonlight so much, barely anyone knows why Moonlight means so much to me.
First, Moonlight, as a film, is a masterpiece, and to be clear, it is a flawless masterpiece. Every second, every frame, crafted in a way that feels necessary, important, honest, raw, and strikingly beautiful. The music is in tune with its essence, subtle, powerful, ferocious. The cinematography is superb and has seared in my memory images that I will carry with me forever. The lighting, editing, camera angles, camera movements, the perspectives, the choices made are all a mastery of every craft found within the cinematic tradition. The acting was the purest form of human embodiment, more existentially wonderful by the fact that there were such few scenes, such few lines of dialogue, but a powerful and tremendous labour of love in every act. Perfect is the wrong word, as perfect implies a “right way” of telling a story through film, and yet it feels perfect, but after seeing it four times (and after the Oscars I plan on seeing it a fifth), it isn’t that it is perfect, it is that Moonlight is groundbreaking on a fundamental level, for both cinema and the audience. Similar to Lemonade, Moonlight has changed storytelling, in every aspect, forever.
While my account is completely anecdotal, and though every conversation I have had has been of praise (they are still un-emperical), the cultural impact of Moonlight is undeniable. From the reviews to SNL, it will survive beyond the Oscars as a prime historical moment in cinema, regardless of the outcome tomorrow. But these things still do not delve into why Moonlight means so much for me.
This is why.
The first time I saw it, with friends and my partner at my side, I cried. I cried every time I watched it in the theatre. There have been moments, upon reflecting on how the film made me feel, that I have broken down in tears, from both joy and a profound pain and sadness (one that I admit I am still working through). I cried because of what Moonlight did for and to me, something no film has ever done.
It affirmed for me that right to feel, not only joy, but pain and suffering. It made me appreciate even more that night in Dublin where I cried for the first time, using the shoulder of a man I consider brother, in almost a decade of hiding away the pain of the murder of my best friend. It affirmed my belief, reluctant at times, that we are historical beings, carrying with us everything, every moment, every touch, every kiss, every hurt, every death, every love we have ever experienced. It made me see myself and my friends, especially my Queer Black Male friends, as human on a screen that has historically made them invisible and un-human, but more importantly, it made me reckon with how I was not Little-Chiron-Black, but I was Kevin, or others who stood idly by, enacting violence, being complicit in the existential and physical torture, because I wanted to hold on to my male-straight-cis privilege at the expense of “those other boys”. I cried because I appreciated the solidarity of Barry Jenkins to the continent and Latin America, on the visibility of Afro-Latinidad in Juan, the familiar and heartbreaking guitar and voice of Caetano Veloso, the subtle nuances of a Black-Cuban Miami we often never get to see unless it is our own flesh. I was moved by how human every person in Moonlight was, how whole the lives of a drug dealer, a drug addict, a mother, a friend, a Black child, an incarcerated Black Man, a past lover, were put on display without trying to take away their realities and showcased the complexity of their humanity.
I was overwhelmed at what Moonlight could mean for everyone who saw it, what it could mean for Black Women to be seen as whole, redeemable, what it meant for Black men to reckon with their toxic masculinity, what it meant especially for Queer Black Men and Boys, that they were valid beings, deserving of emotion and ache and love and history and reckoning and forgiveness and understanding and a devastating paradox, that they can see the past, hurt in the present, but be hopeful for the future. Beyond this, I was not only overwhelmed by what Moonlight could mean for others, but what it could and did mean for me.
In my own depths, I have yet to fully reckon with my history, my privileges and my oppressions, the violences I have experienced and the violences I have enacted, the pain I feel and the pain I have caused. Moonlight, in what sometimes feels like an indescribable and unquantifiable tool, has helped me see myself, as a Mestizo-Brown Latino [Cis] Man, has helped me in this ever present contest of an older me and a radically different me to face the emotional weight of a violent, traumatic, confusing history, to question and accept the nuances of the impact that history has had on my own sexuality as a man of color, one that as everyday passes seems to be more unidentifiable and queer. Moonlight gave me a hope that there are stories can be told and told in a way that shatter whiteness and patriarchy and everything in between, stories that can be truly human at the expense of no one.
This is why Moonlight is important to me, because unlike any other film, and regardless of any award outcome, it has given me unbreakable hope that even in the darkest of nights, in the moonlight, we can still see ourselves and each other.