It’s been over two weeks since the Oscars, but the glow of ‘Moonlight’ will last for years to come.
It was powerful to see the cast and crew of ‘Moonlight’ gather round for their award, especially after Mahershala Ali had won earlier in the evening for Best Supporting Actor. The biggest blunder in Oscar history aside, I was particularly happy for director and producer Barry Jenkins, who was finally getting the due that eluded him in his earlier work.
In the Summer of 2009 I attended a symposium at the Teachers College of Columbia University, on independent black filmmakers and breaking through the wall that is Hollywood. Many of the issues brought up that day have been discussed ad nauseam among filmmakers of color: lack of funding, marketing, distribution, working within the studio system, etc. Towards the end of the program, we watched a film called ‘Medicine for Melancholy’ that told the story of two people who spend a day together in present day San Francisco. The actors Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins take us into the world of two people exploring themselves – and their city – if only for mere hours. That film, was directed by Barry Jenkins.
‘Medicine for Melancholy’ was well received by the audience that day back in 2009. We all wondered out loud though, how do
we get more films like this out to those who live outside LA and New York where the opportunities to see such work isn’t as plentiful? And where will this director go in their field and how long before they work on their next film? Eight years later, we have the answer to one of those questions.
To know that ‘Moonlight’ is only the second feature film Barry Jenkins has directed (but to most people, it’s their first introduction to him) and that it won Best Picture is all the more powerful. These stories need to be told. ‘Moonlight’ was not some big box office project and did not get the wide distribution that many films get, but it made an impact and was a an incredibly well told story. None of us could have foreseen this at the Teachers College eight years ago, but the fact that Barry Jenkins and the ‘Moonlight’ family are getting their due at the highest of levels, makes it all the more rewarding.