There’s never been a film quite like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
Moonlight focuses on the narrative of a young black male coming out while living in inner-city Miami during the 1980s.
The most revolutionary scenes of the 2017 Oscars contender happen when two black men are allowed to be intimate and vulnerable with each other. This is a rarity on screen.
These scenes shook me because, despite their simplicity, it was the first time I was seeing black men on screen that accurately represented the black men I know in real life.
Black male characters are usually one-dimensional — they’re angry, they’re menacing, they’re hardened. So seeing two black men caressing each other shows thrilling emotional depth.
In fact, most characters of colour on film and in television are unvarying, if they exist at all. The greater issue is that films aren’t being made that explore the nuances of black, Asian, Latino or Indigenous life. Instead, we get stereotypes like the sassy black friend, the “exotic” Latina or the Asian tiger mom. The University of Southern California did a study of 30, 000 characters in 700 movies from 2007 to 2014 and found that on average only 27 per cent of characters were not white.
This goes beyond diversity, hitting quotas, and making sure token characters are added into storylines.
Representation alone isn’t enough if it continues to play into stereotypes. That’s why movies like Moonlight are so essential.
More varied representation of characters in film and TV comes from more people of colour in directing chairs, writing rooms and production studios. The film industry needs to support black, brown, Indigenous, Latino and Asian writers and filmmakers and trust that there are audiences for their films.
It shouldn’t be a risk for studios to make movies that don’t focus on white characters. As moviegoers, we decide with our pockets what kind of films get made. We have more power than we realize.
There are still so many stories that haven’t been told, and we should no longer accept the same tired storylines.