By Orville Lloyd Douglas.
Black people are still mentally enslaved; even in the 21st century there is a psychic need by some Black artists to seek white approval and acceptance. The universal acclaim of the independent film Moonlight is due to white film critics, most heterosexual. Black films are made for white people, not for blacks. African American lesbian feminist Audre Lorde wrote in her groundbreaking 1984 book Sister Outsider that the master’s tools cannot be used to dismantle the master’s house. Moonlight is a film made for white hipster heterosexual consumption which is the Mythical Norm. According to Lorde, the Mythical Norm is the white heterosexual man. Brad Pitt, a white straight man and A-list Hollywood superstar, is one of the producers of the film.
However, a closer examination of Moonlight reveals some serious flaws. For instance, Moonlight follows the script of the race baiting recipe for black dramatic films set in the present day or close to the present day. The blueprint to obtain white Hollywood seal of approval is a toxic stew of racist stereotypes. This movie has all the ingredients, a crack addict black mother, absentee black father, the protagonist Chiron grows up poor and destitute in the ghetto. Since the protagonist is gay this adds a new flavour that this race baiting film is stirring. To top it off Chiron ends up being a drug dealer as an adult.
White film critics love watching films about black characters going through an extreme form of suffering. In Moonlight, the suffering is about homosexuality, race, drug addiction, crime, and poverty. Black family dysfunction is the key for black films that want white critical acclaim and success. White people love seeing blacks as poor, destitute, living in poverty and in the hood. They get off on seeing blacks in despair. It is exciting and entertaining for whites to see blacks poor and unhappy. Moonlight is the ultimate poverty porn misery film. It is a form of voyeurism for white film audiences, visual masturbation material for white liberals. As the white film critics have white privilege and also belong to a higher social class, they can watch Moonlight vicariously looking into the lives of poor black Americans and return to their perfect white lives in the suburbs after watching the film.
Even though Moonlight is fiction, and just a film, the stand point in society where white film critics are situated provides them a different film experience than a black film viewer. For white film critics they obviously see Moonlight as ground breaking and illuminating. However, Moonlight is not new nor is it ground breaking, it is just another copy of the boring and tired poor black thug movie. The stereotypical black thug movies dates back to the early 1990s, when Boyz n the Hood was released in 1991. Ever since Boyz n the Hood white people are obsessed with gritty urban dramas. The former television show The Wire (2002-2008) is proof of this. Moonlight just has the gay element, that is the only difference.
A few years ago, another black film, Precious, about an obese black girl who had a crack addict mother and grew up poor, also received critical praise from white film critics. Mo’Nique won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Oprah Winfrey championed Precious, giving the stereotypical film her golden seal of approval. But the Academy voters are 99.9% white, most of them men over the age of 50. Moonlight was not made for a black audience or even a racially diverse LGBT film audience. Moonlight was created for a white, liberal heterosexual audience. Barry Jenkins is just playing the Hollywood game: give the white people who have power, such as the Academy voters and white film critics, what they want to see on a silver platter. Moonlight is a stereotypical Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner meal served up for whites to devour with glee. Moonlight is a film made by an outsider who wants to become a part of the Hollywood system. The film placates to racial prejudices of white folks in order to obtain white heterosexual acceptance. It is pathetic that blacks in Hollywood have to continue to shuffle and jive in the 21st century.
Another point to consider is the hypocrisy of heterosexuals who praise gay films like Moonlight because they do not challenge their homophobia. Just like Brokeback Mountain over a decade ago, Moonlight is getting praise because its depiction of male homosexuality is limited. However, how many of these film critics are actually gay men? It is a tricky balance for heterosexuals who critique gay films. They have to be careful to conceal their true homophobia and appear to be modern and open minded. Would the white straight film critics praise Moonlight if the movie was unapologetically gay and had much more explicit gay sex scenes? Brokeback Mountain only had one gay sex scene in the entire film and it was filmed in complete darkness. Gay male sex is still Hollywood’s ultimate taboo. By restraining gay male sex Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight achieved their goal placating to the fears and prejudices of heterosexuals.
The main difference between Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight is race, yet the strategy to appeal to heterosexual audiences is similar. Moonlight is being marketed as a coming of age story about a young gay black man, but it is also predictable. Gay films dealing with anguish and unhappiness about being gay like Moonlight and Brokeback Mountain sell to straight film audiences. However, just like Brokeback Mountain, the homosexuality is restrained and held prisoner by heterosexual directors. A straight male director can claim to be open minded but he will never truly understand gay male love due to lack of life experience as a gay man. The paucity of not being gay is exactly part of the reason why Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight are so successful. The movies play to the straight person sensibilities. The films will not harm the so called open minded straight person’s idealized view about what they think gay male love really is. Although Barry Jenkins is receiving praise because he is a straight man who directed a gay film, his heterosexual bias hurts the film. Moonlight is robbed of its queerness due to the heterosexism of the director. Just like in Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee, a heterosexual, directed the film and went on to win the Oscar for best director. Yet I scratch my head trying to discern why Brokeback Mountain is considered a great film? There is still an entrenched homophobic bias that straight men who direct or are involved in gay films deserve automatic praise and approval, as though participating or working on a gay film is some incredible act of courage.
First, Brokeback Mountain is based on a short story written by a heterosexual woman, Annie Proulx, who wrote a fictional story about gay men and achieved critical acclaim for it. Once again a heterosexual person achieved fame and acclaim by exploiting the gay male community and gay culture. Moonlight also suffers from the lack of gay sex scenes in the film. Under the direction of Barry Jenkins, who happens to be straight in real life, Moonlight also suffers from having a heterosexual involved in the film. The underlining homophobia of the director is obvious. Hollywood still has a problem with seeing two men in love. Heterosexual films have sex scenes as proof that two characters have strong romantic feelings towards each other. However, the lack of anal sex scenes in Moonlight is just further proof of Barry Jenkins placating to the prejudice of heterosexual film audiences. After all, there is an underlining prejudice that, in order not to upset straight film audiences, a film involving gay male characters cannot be “too gay.” The lack of kissing scenes in Moonlight again, is to placate for heterosexual audiences. They get to be voyeurs into the gay male world but don’t have to worry about being “grossed out” by the gay scenes. Straight people can claim to be “open minded” about gay men after seeing Moonlight because their homophobia was not challenged.
In the early 21st century, I can think of only one gay film released which was unapologetic about its depiction of male homosexuality, the French erotic thriller film Stranger By The Lake. Stranger by the Lake did not obtain Oscar acclaim because the film was viewed as “too gay.” Stranger by the Lake moved beyond the boring, cliche gay films which explore a loathing about being gay such as Moonlight and Brokeback Mountain. There is no suffering by the gay men in Stranger by the Lake about their homosexuality. They are gay men in France who cruise for sex by the lake in the summer. Gay men who are proud to be gay and have no conflict about their homosexuality is not an easy sell to homophobic heterosexual film audiences. The gay films which appeal to heterosexuals always involve sadness and pain about being gay. Stranger by the Lake transcends these homophobic tropes. The movie involves a young gay man who murders his lover and another man who witnesses the murder yet falls in love with the killer. Stranger by the Lake is a breakthrough for gay cinema because the film was not afraid to explore gay male sexual desire. The film had full frontal male nudity, erections, oral and anal sex scenes. There was backlash against Stranger by the Lake in France, but the film did not deny that gay men have sex lives.
Even in the recent independent film King Cobra, about gay porn star Brent Corrigan, the homosexuality is again restrained. The gay sex scenes in King Cobra was a complete joke. They were not erotic or sexy at all. The paucity of any explicit anal sex scenes even in a film about gay porn is rooted in homophobia. Film audiences should not be praised for watching a watered down version of male homosexuality. It does not educate audiences about gay male love. Gay men love deserves to be treated with respect and not be hidden in the shadows and treated with pretentious regard.
Orville Lloyd Douglas is a Canadian, essayist, poet, and writer. He is the author of the book Under My Skin published by Guernica Editions in 2014.