Why An Oscar Win For Moonlight Would Be Bigger Than You Think

A victory for the film could expand the scope of Black imagination and storytelling.

By now, you have probably heard a lot of buzz about the film, “Moonlight,” written and directed by Barry Jenkins. I mean, you’ve had to, unless you’ve been under a rock. Barry Jenkins’ latest film chronicles a young boy, Chiron, through three acts of his life as he grapples with his sexuality in a tough neighborhood.

Last night during the Golden Globes, I was shocked as I watched the movie’s six nominations fizzle down to one (well deserved) Best Picture win in the Drama category. Oddly enough, I was shocked but not surprised. Just five years ago, Steve McQueen sat in the same spot as Jenkins: a highly regarded film with multiple nominations, only to take home one win. It is not uncommon for Black films to walk away without any sort of “sweep.” Even still, I couldn’t help but worry that this disappointment may carry over into the “Super Bowl of filmmaking,” The Oscars. The Golden Globes are often seen as a gauge of what films will get nominations and do well at the Oscars. While I am fully expecting a Best Picture nomination for the film, I can’t help but dream about what a win at the Oscars would mean not only for movements such as #OscarsSoWhite and as a way to reach young, Black males struggling with their sexuality as members of their communities; but also about what this film’s success represents for aspiring Black filmmakers.

The reason why an Oscar win for Moonlight would be so important is because it would, firstly, bring back the importance of independent filmmaking. Moonlight started off as a very small film, not backed up by a major studio with only a $5 million budget, ultimately grossing $13 million. In fact, A24, the movie’s distributor, is only a four year old company. The last Black film to gain so much buzz with such a small budget was John Singleton’s “Boyz In The Hood” in 1991, which garnered Best Director and Best Screenplay nominations with no wins. However, “Boyz In The Hood” still received distribution through a major studio, Columbia Pictures. Even the king of Black independent filmmaking, Spike Lee, had the backing of Universal pictures with his Oscar nominated film, “Do The Right Thing”.

If nominated, “Moonlight” would become the first Black independent film to receive any Academy recognition. This motivation alone could help bring about a generation of young filmmakers unafraid to go forward in their storytelling in a society that is generally ran by the “blockbuster”. It is long overdue that The Academy begin to reflect not only the diverse faces in filmmaking, but also the diverse ways in which films are made. Moonlight’s modern day Cinderella story gives great hope to those filmmakers who have an awesome screenplay without the pull of a major studio.

I find the reason I am rooting for Moonlight the most, however, is what a Best Picture win would represent to Black filmmakers. Moonlight is a gut-wrenching film that not only delivers excellent performances from its actors, but also gives the audience a sense of relevancy in conveying a timely coming-of-age story. The movie greatly portrays the essence of Black life through performance, aesthetic, and soundtrack without once drawing a stereotypical caricature that would otherwise make a Black audience cringe.

It is a film that anyone could be cast in, meaning it is not a story reliant on historical occurrences, as most Black films that get any recognition by The Academy tend to be. Moonlight stands solid in its Blackness by displaying Black people in a modern time, not reliant on a strained relationship with White counterparts. Therefore, a nomination or win for this movie could assure any viewer that it was not based on a decision riddled in White guilt. It would mean that, for once, Black people being Black and dealing with their Black issues without outside stressors was enough to be considered excellent. To me, this is the biggest and greatest message The Academy could send to young Black filmmakers. Too often we are told that no one is interested in our stories unless it somehow adds to the false narrative that historical Black struggle is the only story we have to tell. This is not to discount the work that many brilliant directors have done in telling our ancestors’ stories. But you must admit, in 89 years there must be a story worth telling past slavery or the Civil Rights era. Moonlight is that story. A win would mean that Black filmmakers no longer have to have their “historical movie” ready in order to be given a spotlight in order for them to earn an opportunity to make a movie they wanted to tell; a movie that could actually stem from the imagination. Too often, The Academy only recognizes non-fictional Black films in which only Black people could be cast. Meanwhile, their White counterparts are given the freedom to roam in space, battle precarious monsters, be fluid in sexuality and beliefs or simply be a newly divorced woman who wants a fresh start.

It’s time to do away with the politics that have been controlling the way we recognize and award stellar filmmaking. By every standard set before it, Moonlight is a movie well worth its buzz and has set itself apart from any other film put out this year. It’s time that The Academy gives it not only the proper recognition, but awards as well. The best way to combat #OscarsSoWhite is to send the message that, for once, Black imagination and modern Black storytelling is good enough.

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