The movie Moonlight and its value in queer cinema
The movie Moonlight wasn’t expected to win Best Picture in the recent 89th Academy Awards.
Sure, it was beautiful – it was so beautiful it was almost poetry in motion – but there had been a slew of beautiful films that slipped under Oscars radar and never even made it past the nominations.
La La Land was the crowd and critics’ favorite to win, but attendees at the 89th Academy Awards were in for a shock when not only did La La Land not win, they witnessed the biggest booboo in Oscar history with the now-unforgettable “wrong envelope”.
The movie Moonlight won and it won with cinematic drama.
Drama aside, the movie Moonlight will remain as one of the most important films in queer cinema because it is the first LGBT film to win an Oscar Best Picture.
One could imagine Fate telling this queer movie that every move the LGBT makes will always be surrounded in controversy.
The movie Moonlight and Brokeback Mountain
In 2005, there was so much buzz about Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. It starred two of the hottest actors in Hollywood: the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
In case you don’t remembers (which we doubt), the two play cowboys who are in an illicit relationship with each other. Their affair was the longest relationship each would ever have in their lifetime.
As much as the buzz was that it was a gay film, it was also a movie where legends were made of.
“The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone,” Roger Ebert then wrote about the film.
“I can imagine someone weeping at this film, identifying with it, because he always wanted to stay in the Marines, or be an artist or a cabinetmaker,” Ebert noted.
Cue the Oscars in 2006, and everybody was waiting for Brokeback Mountain to be called as Best Picture.
When Crash was named and Jack Nicholson made that shrugging gesture of “I don’t get it either,” so many hearts were crushed.
For a lot of people, Brokeback Mountain didn’t win because it wasn’t any good. It lost because it was an LGBT film.
Other LGBT films that slipped under the radar
Brokeback Mountain was one of LGBT’s biggest heartaches because at that time we thought it was our moment. No other films came that close.
Think Carol, which wasn’t even nominated; The Kids are Alright; Boys Don’t Cry; Milk; The Hours; Philadelphia; and Blue is the Warmest Color, among others.
All these films were monumental, not just for queer cinema but as legendary masterpieces.
While the Academy is generous in giving out Oscars to actors and actresses who play LGBT roles– Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia and Hillary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry— it still had its doors closed to queer cinema as a whole.
Then came the movie Moonlight
One could imagine the movie Moonlight as the little movie that could.
As much as it is the first LGBT film to win an Oscar’s Best Picture, it was also the subtlest, quietest, softest, most affirming movie whose themes revolve around drugs, violence and bullying.
“What makes Moonlight such a transcendent work is that it illuminates these invisible lives, beyond the categories that have blinded so many to their humanity and their beauty,” wrote Adam Shatz for The Paris Review.
The movie Moonlight is so important to queer cinema not just as the first LGBT best picture winner, but because it upholds queer love.