Moonlight seemed like a watershed moment for our community. Like the birth of a movement. A celebratory time. The film created tons of buzz on the festival circuit and went on to win an Oscar for Best Picture. A story of Black, gay love and queer identity was recognized as the year’s best film. For the most part, we don’t even expect to see films like this on Netflix, let alone being awarded Hollywood’s most prestigious honor.
But it seemed like Moonlight was a hard sell outside of Black queer culture. Accolades aside, there just wasn’t much interest from our White counterparts. News about the film took a backseat to less culturally relevant stories. As a champion of queer expression, I was frustrated. Why wasn’t this incredible work of art getting its due?
Vanity Fair went on to examine how difficult it is to get queer movies made, in general. “Even in a Post-Moonlight World, It’s Nearly Impossible to Get a Gay Movie Made,” read the headline. The article shared observations from 6 directors who had faced difficulty funding their work.
I admit, as a viewer, and sometimes a critic, I’m not privy to what goes on behind the scenes. I don’t see the hoops a filmmaker must jump through to get a queer film made. I know that Moonlight was made on a shoestring budget, and that indie films only tend to net significant funding when the stories are perceived as somewhat universal.
However, to me, it seems that queer films are being made more often, or at least breaking through more often. Some of the “buzziest” movies of the festival season are queer stories. One of which is, Call Me By Your Name, the story of a romance between a 17-year-old boy and an older American scholar. The advance buzz has focused on the sensual and explicit examination of gay sex. There’s also BPM, which offers a French perspective of the AIDS crisis. The film officially entered the foreign film Oscar race this week. There is also, Beach Rats and God’s Own Country, both tales about men coming to terms with their sexuality in settings where it is not accepted.
These are all unconventional stories about queer love and queer activism, all united by their roots in our struggle. But one thing they also have in common, is the lack of color. These are white LGBTQ stories by and by. It seems, despite Moonlight’s watershed moment, there was no desire to repeat that success. It’s odd, considering how quickly Hollywood churns out sequels, reboots, and bland carbon copies at record rates.
Is it because Moonlight was considered a one-off? Perhaps it’s because it was initially assumed that the movie would be a critical darling, but turn little revenue and then disappear. Could it be that nothing similar was waiting in the wings for 2017, because Hollywood didn’t think audiences cared about these stories? Or is it just coincidence that there wasn’t a good, Black queer film this year? I tend to think it is the former.
If nothing else, Hollywood is known for cashing in on formulas that work. Moonlight’s formula worked. So, why hasn’t anyone scraped together a collection of Black, gay love stories to target that audience (read: us)? (This wouldn’t be an issue if the filmmaking landscape was more diverse, but I digress.)
TV at least seems more comfortable exploring Black queer stories. Look to Lena Waithe’s Emmy comedy writing win for Master of None, and its excellent Thanksgiving episode as proof. But judging by the queer film landscape this awards season, we’ve still got a long way to go.
For queer cinema. For black cinema. And for all the combinations in-between.
This isn’t to take away from the movies that are out now. I’m extremely excited to see Call Me By Your Name, and I was so moved by Beach Rats. I just fear that Moonlight was a one-time thing, and we deserve more than that. I really hope more stories are in the works. And if not, it’s time to pool our resources and tell our stories ourselves.