SPOTLIGHT ON MOONLIGHT
DEAR TOKEN: With films like MOONLIGHT becoming mainstream and winning awards, is this the beginning of a paradigm shift in the definitions of black masculinity or simply an anomaly? And how can we bridge the gap between the black community and the LGBT community to be more inclusive and represented? -OurStoriesMustBeTold
DEAR STORIES: Let me first say that the moment when Jordan Horowitz announced that the Academy Award for Best Picture did not belong to his film, about white people singing and dancing through happy Hollywood but instead to the one about the gay black man scratching and clawing through an identity crisis, was one of the most personally satisfying moments I've had in a long time. And no disrespect to Jordan -- he's a great guy, a talented filmmaker, and handled that chaos exactly right -- but, seriously, I reveled in the chaos and saw no small irony in the personification of how difficult it is for Hollywood to give black people their due. 2016 sucked for so many reasons. (Personally I blame Chicago Cubs fans, who undoubtedly offered their souls to Beelzebub in exchange for that World Series ring, for much of it). But one great thing that 2016 brought us was the widespread realization that movies about Black people don't have to be about slavery to go mainstream. MOONLIGHT was one small step for movies, one giant leap for mankind. Stories, you are wise to not ask about what this means for Hollywood or the film industry because, honestly, that is low-hanging fruit. Hollywood should know enough about economics to realize that the more diverse its stories are -- from the writers to the cast to the producers -- the more audience (money) they bring to the table. This brother is counting on that continued shift because I've got projects lined up for years.... The bigger issue here is not economy, but validity. Chiron, the main character in MOONLIGHT, is not a new type of black man. He's just new to being acknowledged. There are many gradients on the scale between Huxtable and "Dyn-o-mite." The truth is few things will have a greater effect on our culture than young black boys seeing themselves more fully represented and de-stigmatized in mainstream media.
It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. I'm a thirty-something gay black man and Chiron is the closest I've come to identifying on a personal level with any movie character. (Well, except for Simba, but that's a different story). As grateful as I am to have seen it, it's also sad that it took so long. And it's more sad that there are generations of black men who struggle to see who they really are depicted, let alone celebrated. Trust - it's not fun being the invisible man. Now, for the second part of your question: I don't really know how to answer it because if there's a gap between the two communities then I am standing with one foot on either side. And I'm not flexible enough to do the splits. It comes down to this - unless you are a straight white Christian(ish) man, you're a minority to somebody. You and your "community" have had to overcome some unfair shit and, most likely, are still dealing with it both within your group and outside of it. It is way past time that we stop fighting for the status of "most abused identity group" and start working together to make America mean what it says when it promises equality for all. We live in a time and a place where everyone is free to be themselves. Sure, it's easier for some than others, but that's life and it ain't always fair. Let's continue to pressure the media and entertainment industries to show the wider range of who we are by supporting art that challenges old stereotypes and by using our own voices to add our unique stories to the conversation. Julian Michael aka "Token" is a former guidance counselor turned comedian, writer, and radio host. Take what he says with a grain of salt, because your food is probably bland anyway. Got a question? Need advice? Write to #DearToken here!