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Remembering The ‘Moonlight’ Oscar Win One Year Later

While Moonlight was making black queer history at the 89th annual Academy Awards, my black gay ass was sound asleep.

I was obviously rooting for the film and wanted to stay up until those final minutes of the telecast. Unfortunately, the boredom of that showcoupled with chicken wings and a sleep-inducing mattressspurred a man-down situation. It’s not the first time I’ve knocked out early during pivotal moments in Oscar history, and if you’re wondering, no, I haven’t forgiven myself for sleeping through Halle Berry’s win either.

However, as I would learn the next morning, it could have been worse. I could have been Warren Beatty’s ass and simply decided to read the wrong name on the card and pretend that La La Land was voted Best Picture despite obvious vote tallies to the contrary.

Human error is unavoidable, but when mostly bothered me then, and to some extent present day, is that Beatty’s gaffe is how many will always remember that moment.

For those of us that are black and identify as queer, gay, bisexual, same-gender loving, or some other descriptor that y’all can email me and educate me on by the end of this sentence, you can’t help but still annoyed by Madonna’s old boyfriend, Dick Tracy, for tainting it.

I didn’t want to have to focus on whether or not it was embarrassing to the La La Land cast and production team. Nor did I want to have to entertain the politics behind Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ “graciousness” in how he handled the absolute shit show the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put him through.

All I wanted to do was celebrate that this little art-house movie about black people and queerness exceeded all expectations commercially and critically and went on to win the biggest award in filmeven despite all signs that, once again, white folks were going to win.

Then again, in considering the moment then and now, I have to remember that by the time I had laid my head down and inadvertently fell asleep, I had already decided that Moonlight had won.

When I first saw the film at a screening among a sea of older white film critics and a few black media colleagues of mine, I was a bit distracted initially. I wondered if I was the only one to get a last minute invitation despite my experiences mirroring those of Chiron more than most in that room.

To wit, at the very end of the movie, two very polite older white people stared directly into my face and asked me how I felt about it. For some, this might’ve been annoying, but I found them to be rather curious. Surely, they had clocked me, and presumably, they wanted someone like me to lend credence to their own praise.

But that’s what I found most interesting: how little interaction they probably have with black queer people, much less ones of a lower socioeconomic status and how this might have been their first real engagement with them in this medium.

In my initial writing about the film, perhaps I might have been too consumed with my overall irritation with Hollywood’s habit of consuming blackness largely through pathology. However, what made Moonlight so special is that it managed to tackle these darker themes with a nuance and complexity not typically assigned to them.

The film also managed to capture the awkwardness and confusion associated with same-sex attractions at various stages in life with a simple sort of beauty and thoughtfulness that I had never seen especially not from anyone who looks like me. I reserve the right to keep complaining about not every facet of black queerness being seen in television and film, but in those 111 minutes, I at least saw the parts of myself that used to make me uncomfortable chronicled gorgeously.

That was a feat in and of itself, but the happiness spilled over as week after week, increasing numbers of people wanted to see an art-house film tackling black gay queerness. I must say this repeatedly:because ridiculous people continuously declare to me that black films are “niche” and have limited scope outside of the United States.

(Moreover, they also sayblack people are so homophobic they will throw Holy water in every hole you have to stop you from fornication.)

You put all thistogether and it meant that Moonlight was supposed to make only $7.25 at the box office and maybe get two foreign moviegoers who mistakenly walked into the theater expecting to laugh at Madea. But that was not the case:Moonlight not only managed to make far more than it’s teensy budget, but it made even more money overseas.

This small movie for $1.6 million from a black director with an all-black cast who in no way, shape, or form centered white people in their LGBTQ story managed to do all of this. We have yet to see more films centering black LGBTQ folks announced in the wake of Moonlight’s win, but the film did prove what used to be considered impossible is plausible when given the right opportunity and push.

It is my hope that in years to come, there will be more of us telling our stories our way, and we willreceive the proper accolades for it. Just don’t have Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway aroundbless their old, non-reading, La La Land-stanning hearts.


Michael Arceneaux

Michael Arceneaux writes the “Dearly Beloved” advice column at INTO. He is the author of the forthcoming book I Can't Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more.

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