I read a review of the Oscars this morning by Robert Hill in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where he referred to Moonlight as a film about “the life trajectory of a violent, drug-dealing homosexual black thug, whose mother is a whore and a crackhead.”
I was irritated by the review because, amidst his musings about why a “positive film about Black folks” couldn’t win the Oscars, he had managed to flatten the most beautiful film I had ever seen to a story about a bunch of statistics and, in his mind, perjoratives.
It was a song, a poem, a meditation on how violence and intimacy can be connected, how tenderness can be a salvation, how vulnerability can be devastating, but ultimately how we all need soft spaces in out lives to be who we are. It was a symphonic queer film that reflected the silent places in me, a queer Black woman, and said “yes. I know,” even as the film centered on the journey of a queer Black boy into adulthood. I left the theatre humbled.
Some folks won’t see it, convinced that they already know everything they need to know about it because they are convinced that there is nothing to understand about those of us who have been shaped by poverty and violence, nothing beautiful can come from us queer beings, nothing holy can be born from stories about our lives because outside of the statistics and the inner-city charities that some give to once a year, we don’t exist. We don’t have lives, we do not dream, we are a shame and a sin.
They would be wrong and that is the tragedy. The violence in the idea that we do not exist except for the definitions etched in the minds of those who would never know us or see us is a double edged sword. It cuts us and it cuts them. It means up until now I haven’t seen a story that has been able to carry the weight of being Black and queer and poor and impacted by violence. I haven’t seen a story that is tender with the woundings of being unloved and untouched in many ways. Because in so many minds that story does not exist, cannot exist.
I had a small piece in the City Paper not too long ago, about how I lost my virginity to a fuckboy, and how my first love wasn’t somebody that I slept with but somebody that offered me some small tenderness in my life, who was later killed violently. I was petrified to put this story into writing because, wouldn’t it just be stereotyping myself? Wouldn’t I just be another hood girl that grew up in the 90s, traumatized and destined to be a tragedy?
Well yes, there would be stereotyping. But I refuse to believe that violence and poverty and trauma make you less human. I refuse to believe that the only stories worth telling are the respectable ones. I refuse to believe that if somebody believes that I do not exist outside of the narrative that they have created for me that that means it is true.
I agree that we need more positive representations of ourselves. But I do not agree with those that say those representactions don’t ever come hood, or ratchet, or queer or femme, or carrying some secret pain that informs the way they move in the world. Because those representations would just be a flattening of us, a rejection of our humanity, and a caricature of who we be that just does not exist.