Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I’m Sorry — I’m Black and I Didn’t Think Moonlight Was All That
I was excited that Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar, but that was before I saw it.
Full disclosure: I got my bachelors degree from Cornell and a masters at Brown, so I know what to look for in a good narrative. I’m no critic, but I know without even seeing it that La La Land is a better film than Moonlight, even if Ryan Gosling can’t sing or dance. Faye Dunaway was subconsciously trying to correct a terrible wrong when she mistakenly named La La Land Best Picture.
First of all, I don’t know any black people like the ones in Moonlight. All the black folk I know are fine upstanding citizens who pay their taxes and enjoy things like Hamilton and Colson Whitehead. In fact, I know Colson Whitehead. The last thing either of us would do is wear a set of gold “fronts” while driving around in a tricked-out 1980s Cadillac. I don’t know what Colson drives these days, but my wife and I have a Lexus and a MINI Cooper.
Mahershala Ali (“Juan”) won Best Supporting Actor but was in the film for all of three minutes, which — I hate to think there was a little affirmative action going on, but shouldn’t we have some minimum time requirements for Oscars? He’s black and Muslim, so the Academy might have thought it was a good idea to hit two diversity birds with one stone on the whole #OscarsSoWhite thing. Lucas Hedges had a lot more frames in Manchester By The Sea, but he’s so white in that flick that I can understand why he couldn’t win. But how about Jeff Bridges? There was some acting.
As far as the storyline goes, Moonlight was really just a few vignettes about high school bullying, followed by a denouement years later when Chiron — I don’t know anybody else named Chiron — has become just like “Juan” in Act I. He’s been in prison so his body is now five times larger than it was when he was a scrawny teenage boy. He drives around in his Cadillac doing vaguely drug-related things, we assume, but it’s not clear. His mother is in a rehab facility, we assume, though that’s not clear either. His friend Kevin looks nothing like he looked when he was Chiron’s first gayish experiment back in high school. This is not explained. We can’t even tell what the Chef’s Special is. Fish? Chicken? Why doesn’t Chiron touch anything but the black beans?
The movie is based on a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, but I didn’t think he looked blue at all. If anything he was kind of purple.
All in all, I think black people should be left a little cold by this movie, confused by its lack of identifiability, and angry that it depicts black Miami as a grim gangscape that happens to have some prime beachfront vistas.
Yes, I was the only black man in my class at Brown, which is ironic when you think about it, but I’ve never felt whiter than I did watching Moonlight.