And Still, We Rise

“Moonlight’s” Juan (Mahershala Ali) holds Little (Alex R. Hibber).

Last night, multiple milestones were reached for marginalized groups at the 2017 Oscars. The real yet regal Viola Davis became the first black woman to be nominated for three Oscars and win an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony for Acting; Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim-American actor to ever win an Oscar; Moonlight became the first LGBTQ-themed film to win Best Picture; and overall, more than three black people won awards. It was a triumphant night — although there’s still ample room for more, for Hollywood and The Academy to do better — for black, queer, regularly invisible, inaudible, and patronized folk. However, the most memorable record-breaking moment also happened to be the most unfortunate. La La Land initially won Best Picture, until it was revealed that Moonlight was the actual winner — the first mistake of its kind in Oscar history. And, while it was chilling and completely embarrassing, it came as no surprise to many of us.

And still, we rise.

Jordan Horowitz, a “La La Land” producer hold the card that shows “Moonlight” won Best Picture.

For centuries, the beauty, brilliance, power, and talent of black people has either been innately forgotten about, purposely ignored, or proudly disparaged. Like George Arnett recently wrote specifically in regards to black women, following Beyoncé’s loss to Adele for Album of The Year at the Grammy’s, black people are regularly, vehemently, pushed aside, only for white people to be praised.

And still, we rise.

It’s the same reason why Casey Affleck not only attended the Oscars but won Best Actor (over the indisputably phenomenal performance of Denzel Washington in Fences), and Nate Parker is nowhere to be found since millions of us learned about his sexual assault charges. Don’t get me wrong, I fiercely and steadfastly reject any form of sexual assault. But, the fact that Affleck’s charges have been briefly discussed only to be ignored, while Parker’s name and most likely his career has been completely tarnished, is the epitome of white privilege.

And still, we rise.

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in “Fences.”

As far as many can tell, the Best Picture mix-up was an honest mistake. Explanations like the presenters were supposedly handed the wrong card, or a duplicate of the previous card has been said. Sure. Okay. No harm, no foul. Except for the emotional roller coaster many of us were taken on, beginning with anger, shifting to confusion which progressed to frustration, and ultimately ending with joy, was harmful. In fact, for individuals like myself, that final feeling of joy was combined with annoyance because the entire situation inappropriately detracted from the monumental moment the cast and crew of Moonlight deserved to bask in, without any interruption.

And still, we rise.

It was their award. It was their moment. It was their night. Only to unsurprisingly, almost be, stolen by an underwhelmingly vanilla cast.

And still, we rise.

Mahershala Ali wins Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Moonlight.”

For the record, I do not blame the La La Land cast who were quite pleasant when it came to handing over their awards. I do not blame Faye Dunaway or Warren Beatty (even though I do think he should’ve spoken up sooner about his confusion). However, I do wish everyone (Kimmel included) left the stage and allowed Barry Jenkins and team to publically relish in their excitement, even if it came second to disappointment. I also wish that focus was on that incontrovertible underdog win, rather the inexcusable mess that led to it.

And still, we rise.

We rise because we know how to. The undeserving loss is not foreign to us. Forget falling (in the words of Denzel Washington); we’ve gotten knocked down seven times, and have stood up eight.

We rise because we have to. The general public may credit Rowan Pope in Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, but most of us [black and brown folk] were told, “You have to be twice as good as them to get twice of what they have,” out of the womb.

From L to R: “Moonlight’s” Trevante Rhodes (Black), Alex R. Hibbert (Little), and Ashton Sanders (Chiron) at the 2017 Oscars.

We rise because there’s no other choice. James Baldwin once said, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” That rage is the foundation of our fight; our determination to keep going, to keep creating, to keep advancing despite being regularly disregarded and used.

And still, we rise.

The cast and crew of Moonlight rose despite the mix-up. Ava Duvernay will rise and continue to unapologetically make imperative pieces that make the masses face the ugly truth, like 13th. Denzel Washington will rise over his loss to Casey Affleck, much like he did after his loss to Al Pacino in 1992.

We rise. We always have. We always will.