A milestone in the Moonlight.
Last night, Moonlight picked up Best Picture at the Academy Awards. To say that it came as a shock is a little bit of an understatement... and not just because Faye Dunaway read out the wrong name. This tiny indie film about the early life of young gay black man from a deprived background is the kind of film that normally slips out unnoticed, but somehow it has managed to stride all the way to the podium and LITERALLY snatch the award from the hands of the producers of La La Land. But aside from this split second of TV magic, the moment is far more significant than many seem to be giving it credit for. In 2017, 49 years since the Stonewall Riots, a LGBT movie has just picked up the biggest award in Hollywood. Let's just let that sink in.
In February 2006, I stayed up all night to watch Brokeback Mountain win Best Picture at The Oscars. I was 21 years old and filled with newfound liberation, having finally fled my small home town and moved to the big gay metropolis. I had escaped the bullying and discrimination and with the "gay cowboy movie" about to cement its place in Oscar History, it felt like the rest of the world had caught up too. And then they opened the envelope. "And the Oscar goes to... Crash." I'm sorry, what?
Brokeback had won every precursor award. The Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the SAGs; it even won Best Director at The Oscars. So WHY did it stumble at the final hurdle, refusing to allow LGBT people into its most sacred Hall Of Fame? The reports about voting strategies, demographics and downright conspiracy theories were endless, but essentially it just came to show that, as usual, Hollywood was dragging its feet. Just as it had dragged its feet on the issue of race, so too was it refusing to show its complete support for the LGBT Community. It was like welcoming someone into your hallway, but not letting them sit at your table. Or even offering them a drink.
Now nobody is saying that The Oscars have outright discriminated against LGBT people over the years. Nominations for actors and actresses playing LGBT characters have been numerous - with multiple wins too (Philadelphia, Milk, Boys Don't Cry to name but a few) - but of the ten LGBT films to previously nominated for Best Picture, none had been able to bag the prize. But then came last year. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara were both nominated for their performances as a lesbian couple in Todd Haynes' retro masterpiece, Carol. It ended the year at the top of many critics' lists, with claims that it might finally be the film to break the LGBT ceiling at the awards. But then the nominations came and it had not even made the cut. Despite being able to nominate up to ten films in the Best Film category, the Academy had decided to nominate nine films. And Carol wasn't one of them. It wasn't just a snub; it was a downright insult.
However, last year's ceremony wasn't just controversial for its treatment of LGBT people. Somehow, it was the second consecutive year in which not a single non-white performer had been nominated in any of the acting categories. There was understandable outcry. It was finally thrust into the limelight that Hollywood was not representing a good portion of its viewers, as well as not utilising its vastly diverse and ever-expanding acting talent from all over the world. And as a result, scores of films with vastly diverse casts were greenlit and finally, it seemed that something was going to be done about the problem.
This year's group of nominees was the most diverse group in its history. With nominations in all acting categories for non-white performers, it seemed like real progress had been made. The cynic might say that over-compensation had occurred, but there was no doubt that the three African American-centric films that featured in the Best Picture line-up deserved to be there. And one of these also had a gay protagonist. Imagine that. But despite its stellar reviews and surprise win at The Golden Globes, nobody really thought it could beat the awards behemoth, La La Land. But then... it did.
In 2002 Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Sydney Poitier all won awards in an Oscars ceremony that has since become known as the "Black Oscars". Prior to this, there had been rumbles in the press about the Academy's lack of diversity. Whether or not 2002 was an extreme case of positive discrimination, it still stands out as a brief moment of the Academy embracing diversity before returning to business as usual. With Moonlight, the awards couldn't have chosen a more diverse film. In centring around a LGBT protagonist AND being set in a deprived African American community, this was always going to be the prime candidate for the Academy to demonstrate just how diverse it could be. So is this surprise win just a brief flash of miscellany before The Oscars returns to its usual tried and tested format? Well, only time will tell. But if there's one thing for sure, nobody is complaining that Moonlight took the prize. Not even the makers of La La Land.
So what happens if this is just a blip in mainstream Hollywood's otherwise WASP agenda? Well the foot is through the door now. Moonlight is not a film about straight people dealing with homosexuality, or a LGBT piece that relies on shock tactics to get its audience. Moonlight is a complex and tender depiction of a gay man in the twenty-first century that refuses to shy away from any element of his sexuality that Middle-America might find distasteful. This award is one that shows acceptance - not just from the artistic community, but from the studio system itself. And that's no mean feat for a film that cost only $5 million to make. So while this was a fantastic milestone for LGBT on film, we can only hope that this is the first of many to be stood atop that podium come Oscar Night. Well done, Moonlight. Well done.