The Moment of Moonlight

I remember it quite vividly, a feeling of overwhelming disappointment. As a film lover, Oscar night is the biggest night of the year for me. Even as a Football player, Oscar night is bigger than the Super Bowl in my eyes. I sat down with my roommates in our common room, on that night in 2016, and watched as a three hour event, originally dedicated to the year’s best films, turned into a pedestal for the ongoing racial tensions in America. I knew that it would be brought up, I knew #OscarsSoWhite2 was going to be prevalent; but I didn’t think it was going to run the show. I was pissed…

After all, the awards are for the BEST films of the year, no other stipulation exists. If all of the films nominated were the best, then that is that. Nothing else should be taken into consideration. And 2015, the year in which the nominated films were released, was an outstanding year for film. Alejandro Innaritu and Emmanuel Lubezki created a cinematic masterpiece in The Revenant, Tom McCarthy directed a tour de force of acting ability and direction within Spotlight, and Charlie Kaufman gave the world yet another head scratchingly beautiful claymation masterpiece in Anomalisa. But, no one would focus on this, they only wanted to talk about the lack of African-American representation. In my eyes at the time, I thought it was a tragedy. But then I gave it some time and looked back.

I always understood that there was an absolutely unjust ratio of white cast and crew vs. minority representation in Hollywood. But I was never able to see just how demoralizing it was. I am a white, middle class, college student, from a small town. The latter had already given me an uphill battle when it came to entering the film world; but not like that of minorities entering the industry. Rarely are minority based films and television shows the focus of the populace’s weekend nights, nor are they given the proper exposure and distribution. I thought there was no hope, I thought that this was the way it was, and it was unlikely to change. but then I gave it some time and looked back.

It is not a matter of lack of talent, it is a matter of where our nation’s masses tend to take their money and buy tickets. Obviously, there has always been a startling difference between popular and significance in the art world; from music to film, it is often the case that, the simplified, non-experimental, and cowardly safe pieces capture the population's attention. Especially with the examples below.

These super hero movies are simple, non-complicated, and safe. That is why they make hundreds of millions. One of the past decade’s greatest films was Inarritu’s Oscar Winning Birdman, it was a metaphysical and self-aware beauty of a plot, controlled by a testing but masterwork of a cinematography experiment. It opened by making a little over $400,000 in a weekend. A dumbed down, explosion filled, and hollowed plot in Captain America: Civil War opened by making a little over $170 million in a weekend. This is not an isolated incident. So when I listen to people upset with the film selection, i would ask, “What films did you take the time to see this year?”

I put it on the people, and I was ok with that. Then at the beginning of this year, I drove to see the visceral and mesmerizing Birth of a Nation. It was astounding, poignant, and exceptional for the given moment in racial tensions. The film expressed the frustrations at the time, and it was almost heroic to see. But then I saw that no one was talking about it, a film needs somewhat of a public presence to be nominated, and I felt that the same thing was going to happen for a third year in a row. I was disappointed. But then a little film came out over the summer. There was talk about it, and the talk was hype filled. Finally a predominately African-American film was garnering public praise, not just from critics. I went to see this film.

I was blown away. Barry Jenkins’s masterpiece, Moonlight, had everything. Social commentary, beautiful cinematography, masterful performances, and a plot that can touch anyone’s heart. Fast forward, and my predictions came true. Although, it was not without controversy, Moonlight took home Best Picture, and a sigh of relief came from one side, while a moment of triumph came from the other. A masterful film created by minorities, about minorities, is not an isolated incident either. They are just as prevalent as great white films. But they lack the correct distribution and representation. They exist, but they will remain almost hidden, if we don’t begin to turn down a trip to see the 38th Iron Man film, and instead go to see and independent art-house film. Stop feeding into the capitalistic machine, pumping out piece after piece of garbage, and begin to test yourself. While there will always be a need for blockbusters, and happy, simple movies. We need to realign our focus on the art, instead of the explosions. Only then, will minorities begin to grab the right exposure in the world of film, and only then will this monumental unjust tendency, begin to shift towards an equal, just, and magnificent world of film.



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Matthew Gaynor

Director/Writer of International award winning Frames: a handful of love stories and The Final Action of Ananias [Psalm 82:6] JC18' (CHILD OUT OF ZION)