Mahershala Ali in "Moonlight"
Mahershala Ali in "Moonlight"

When I viewed the well-made, Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” I was flooded with memories, thoughts and feelings. The conversation goes well beyond the drama we see on the screen.

First, when I was in elementary school in Los Angeles, I remember a boy who lived on my street whose mother was said by boys on the street to be a prostitute. They would say it in that cruel, taunting way young boys tease one another. There is such a character in “Moonlight.” He knows his mother and has to process her lifestyle.

Then I was reminded of the brilliant, nearly 60-year-old stage play “The Toilet,” written by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). It is the story of teenage violence that was (and may still be) routinely administered to homosexual boys by other boys. Deep.

Back in my elementary school, there was this buck-toothed boy named Gale. He lived in the house behind mine on the next street. I remember his big, buck teeth because Gale kissed me on the mouth once. I did not like the kiss.

Then there was John Lemon, another elementary school classmate. One day, we played “show me yours, I’ll show you mine…” typical adolescent “boy” behavior in the late 20th century. Seeing “Moonlight” I sensed this is more common than I thought. There is a composite of my Gale and John in “Moonlight.”

In those early days having sex itself was suspect behavior in some circles. Scientific advances in birth-control techniques however made casual sex more abundant, as the risk of pregnancy declined. The debate ended. Folks were going to have sex.

Included in the new sexual freedom movement was an understanding that same-gender sex was gaining acceptability along with heterosexual sex. What was not anticipated was that an “identity” movement developed along with a movement to normalize what had once been considered “queer” behavior.

These are some super-complex issues to address.

Now, we have gender identity issues occurring among 3-year-olds. At that age, a child is certainly not making a gender-identity choice based on sexual attraction. And yet we have government officials freaking the public out about weird activities about to be conducted in school toilets by these depraved 4- and 5- and 6-year-olds.

But when the child reaches adolescence, the age of boyfriend-girlfriend attraction, will a transgender boy — whose birth certificate says girl — be attracted to girls as other boys his age might? Would such attraction render a trans boy, really a lesbian, a girl attracted to other girls? The same applies to transgender girls, whose birth certificates say boy. These are super-complex issues to address. And they border on explosive.

So “Moonlight” deals with sexual preference, which Hollywood can easily process on the screen, but not yet with so much identity, gender.

Never mind that “Moonlight” the movie took place in Liberty City, Miami, a continent away from and a generation later from the Los Angeles where I grew up. There is a narrative which seems to find its way into our stories again and again, regardless of time or space.

An Oscar is a fitting tribute to films with conspicuous artistic merit. “Moonlight” is certainly deserving of the distinction it has received. It really does represent film making at its best. And its story is as old as the Baptist Church and its “Minister of Music,” and is as hauntingly told as a James Baldwin essay.

Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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