A black queer movie won Best Picture at the Oscars and I haven’t known how to act since. I could barely gather myself together to write this article. Moonlight did it for the culture. They did it for every black queer person that has only seen bits and pieces of themselves strewn about queer media. A black queer movie where the main character listens to Goodie Mob, wears gold fronts, and drives a deuce and a quarter became Best Picture. What a time to be alive! Wayment, let me back up for a second and really set this up.
I am from Richmond, California by way of DeRidder, Louisiana. My favorite food is fried chicken and any sort of shrimp and okra creole. I was raised in the Baptist church and routinely use phrases like: Yes Lawd, you need Jesus, and Fix it Jesus. I rotate my music between Kirk Franklin, Ricky Dillard, D’Angelo and Suga Free. My favorite movies are Cleopatra Jones, The Mack, and Blackula, The Temptations Movie and Belly. I have a reputation for being black as hell. I am like your old black uncle that drinks dark liquor and listens to Johnnie Taylor records and has a grown folks fish fry every week.
But when I came out I was in the middle of a West Hollywood club showered by glitter with EDM music blaring a thumping beat and white go-go dancers pumping their fists. It was a long time until I found my tribe within the queer community. One that allowed for my whole self and didn’t insist that I switch out Hennessy and coke for mojitos or Janet Jackson for Madonna and Taylor Swift.
The black queer community has always had a thriving film and media community that produced amazing and groundbreaking independent film and later television. The favorites have been the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning and the 2005 LOGO network tv show Noah’s Arc. Each show told stories that showed different side of our black queer experience. But none has reached the extraordinary level of being acclaimed by mainstream culture like Moonlight was.
One thing that Moonlight and Paris is Burning have in common is that their focus on urban and low income communities give an opportunity to show queerness as most people never see it. The complex issue with the images portrayed in Moonlight is that the portray characters that both white queer and black heterosexuals would prefer to forget exists. Moonlight’s southern roots makes it one of the most unapologetically black queer films that I have ever seen. You can not in any way, shape or form posit the characters as the black friend or the black version of any white character. It’s not even about showing black characters within a white world. These are characters that mirror the all black communities that they come from AND they are gay. Yet to hear your basic straight black Christian or hoteping ass African intellectual tell it, it’s an imaginary world.
I had the opportunity to sit with some black students the day after Moonlight won Best Picture. They highlighted for me one of the most extraordinary unintended consequences of having such a black ass movie. The students all alluded to the fact that watching Moonlight was the first time that they saw gay people that looked like people they grew up around. They weren’t saying that this was the first time that they had seen black gay people on tv before. They were saying that this was the first time they saw characters that looked like their family members or friends. Men that hung out on corners and in the liquor stores in their neighborhoods. Characters that face the same community issues as them. Who have addict mothers like them, must fight to look cool like them, who have loving relationships with the dope dealers in their hood just like them. While others are busy telling them that all gay people live in condos and shop at Whole Foods, Moonlight told them that they shop at the corner stores and frequent the same laundromats as them. They like hot sauce on their fried chicken and prefer their hip-hop music chopped and screwed just like them. Okay maybe the chopped and screwed part was just me.
So, if straight teenagers felt that validated by this show of black culture and community, what do you think that it did for an entire community that is constantly told that we must tuck away our blackness to be seen. We have characters in tv shows that happen to be black but are expected to only portray blackness on special episodes. While that is a problem in television and movies over all, the bar is heighted when both white and black audience prefer to act as if we don’t exist.
I was at my cousin’s beauty shop and one of the barbers was saying how he couldn’t watch Moonlight. That he thought it was a gangsta movie until someone told him it wasn’t. My cousin responded, “It was a gangsta movie. It had gangstas in it.” He replied that they were “different gangsters. The night before I was engaged in yet another blood pressure raising hotep thread on FB. The original poster was insistent that the “gay agenda” was a distraction so that we wouldn’t focus on black death. Never mind that there are black gay folks, especially our trans family, getting killed right outside of hole in the wall bars in our black communities. Nevermind that black queer children are being driven from their homes buy super saved black Christian parents. Those lives don’t matter.
These conversations reminded me that these are the reasons that Moonlight was made. It was made so that we could see ourselves but also so that our OWN black community could know that these stories don’t just exist in places like West Hollywood or the Castro in San Francisco. They exist in Compton and New Orleans and Houston and East Oakland and Brooklyn and deep in the ghetto heart of Miami. It was made so people could know that our black asses exists. Minus the glitter and pop music and kale salads. And we must keep saying it: Best Picture was BLACK Queer, Best Picture was BLACK Queer, Best Picture was BLACK Queer. Because the white queer media that ignores our stories until we die will try to take this moment and make this theirs. No, this is our moment. This time OUR story will be heard. Our black queer asses are real, we exist and our stories need to be heard.