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Why ‘Moonlight’ Oscar Win Resonates Far Beyond Hollywood (Guest Blog)

”Barry Jenkins’ film gives us what we so rarely receive from media portrayals of black men,“ writes J. Bob Alotta, executive director of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

When “Moonlight” finally received its Oscar for Best Picture Sunday night, it was an amazing win for more than the movie’s director, Barry Jenkins, or producers Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner.

While each artist involved rightly deserved to be commended for their tremendous talent, the film’s triumph also gave voice to so many members of the LGBTQI community who are rarely depicted as positive subjects on film, much less recognized by the Academy.

“Moonlight” gives us what we so rarely receive from media portrayals of black men: deep abiding intimacy and the challenges of wrestling with the demands of black masculinity, including the barriers and opportunities to receive and express love and desire.

It also supplies us with a sense of longevity — in a time when we are bombarded by images of black male lives coming to untimely ends. Black male screen time is too often the documentation of murderous violence (due to the toxic projection of black masculinity as a threat, which is a deep and sick irony) and subsequent soundbites piecing together the incomplete lives of beloved son/father/brother/partner too soon departed. But “Moonlight” lingers over the black male self, across decades, across relationships, geographies and personal evolution.

There were many firsts “Moonlight” achieved last night — the first Best Picture award won by a black American director and the first with an LGBTQI main character. Even further, it is a film whose black characters are neither maids or slaves. And though poverty is an important aspect of the film, it doesn’t fight to be a singular aspect of any character’s identity.

But to me, what might be more important than all those firsts is that “Moonlight” reaffirmed to LGBTQI black and brown people — as well as those outside of the community — the beauty of queer, People of Color love.

We are engaged in a very public moment: marching in the streets, “public” outcries, even all of the violence caught on camera. We so rarely get to explore black privacy, intimacy, and what that means in the context of men loving each other or women loving each other or how we express the beautiful.

Chiron has a desire so true, so private, he holds it for years. Yes, arguably, it isn’t yet safe for his desire to be public. But before any of our freedom struggles make it to daylight, we must first find our own tender way. “Moonlight” lays bare the kind of love that would get us into the streets in the first place, or make us drive ourselves across the country for a meal and maybe more. It is this kind of love, that so often motivates us to do the “impossible.”

Representation matters, both to the communities that are able to see their realities showcased, and as an explanation to others who sense who we are based on the stories they are told. so the ability of “Moonlight” to show the beauty and legitimacy of queer, POC love is incredibly important. It is an act of radical love for black, brown and queer bodies to proclaim the depth and breadth of our desire — whether for one another or for freedom in its broadest sense.

Over the past month, this new administration has implemented sweeping changes to policy that have huge cultural as well as legal implication for our daily lives. These changes criminalize many of us, intend harm to our communities, our bodies and create purposeful chaos as we chase each next unbelievable event. “Moonlight” deconstructs the dominant narrative and quietly serves as a kind of artistic resistance — drawing us to a compelling interiority that undermines external hostility with strength and vulnerability.

The epic win by “Moonlight” and its incredible cast represents the hope we desperately need in this moment — to be able to see ourselves and celebrate our lived experiences out loud and unapologetically in a world that is trying to silence us, and with a government that is working to repeal our existence one executive order at a time.

Like the gold statue that celebrated “Moonlight”‘s artistic achievement, the actions we take to defend our humanity and right to exist free of harm and discrimination is ours for the taking. Our freedom is our award. This is our time; together we can and will create an uprising of love.

J. Bob Alotta is an activist, filmmaker and Executive Director of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI human rights around the globe. Astraea recently launched the Uprising of Love Fund to help with the urgent needs of their U.S. grantees battling on the frontlines of the resistance.