Why I Keep Crying About Moonlight Winning Best Picture at the Oscars

Film poster for the move "Moonlight" (2016), features slivers of the face of two Black boys and one black man aligned to form one face with an overlay of blue and purple.

Moonlight Film Poster

I used to think I wasn’t Black enough.

Because of my taste in music and shows, because of my experiences in predominantly white towns and schools, because of my habits and hobbies, and more strongly than anything else, because of my attractions to other girls. Enduring white peers and teachers directly and indirectly invalidating my Black identity and watching the media routinely fall back on the same limited versions of Blackness made me think, even before I considered I might be bisexual, that maybe Black girls like me shouldn’t exist. Once I did consider I might be bi, I knew Black girls like me should not exist.

Being Black and being queer were incompatible as far as I could tell. Occasionally, I encountered minor characters who were Black and queer on TV, but their stories were always used for either humor or heartbreak. Looking back, I remember encountering exactly one movie with a serious and positive representation of Black queerness by the time I graduated from high school, and I’m sure I considered that a fluke. Everything else I saw in fiction and reality suggested that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a member of the Black community and if I didn’t want to destroy my life or my family, I had to be straight. As a Black girl, it was my only option.

When I watched Moonlight, I thought about teenage me feeling torn between her sexuality and her racial identity. I thought about the first time I came out and how I craved the assurance of another Black person that my queerness didn’t lessen my Blackness in any way. I thought about the fact that even two years later when I was working on my creative writing thesis about queer Black Christian teenagers I still wasn’t sure there was really space in the world for me and the few other Black queer people I knew.

I thought about graduating from college and reading Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde and Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing and being moved to tears because all of the writers in those works were saying, “Yes!” Yes, it was okay to be Black and queer. Yes, my experience of  Blackness was good enough.

I thought about the kids who are where I was or where Chiron was–who don’t yet know they’re allowed to be fully themselves, and I got teary eyed because Moonlight says “Yes!” to them. Every time that movie gets the recognition and praise it deserves that is another “yes” to those kids asking if they can be queer and Black. It is another validation of the claim of Moonlight that those of us living at the intersection of Blackness and queerness deserve love and joy and peace and wholeness. It reaffirms that our lives, our love, and our stories are worthy of being celebrated.

If that’s not something to shed tears of joy over, I don’t know what is.

Angélique