Our Intolerance of Written Thinking and of Contrary Opinions and Comments Regarding the Best Picture, “Moonlight” (2016)

I first saw Moonlight (2016) the day it was released for home viewing. My first impression was that it was not nearly as good or as new as many had suggested, and I shared a few thoughts related to this on my personal, private Facebook page:

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My thoughts were generally meet with hostility, which puzzled me since we all have different opinions, I did not say anything definitive, and the film covers areas in which I am an “expert” (Blackness, Queerness, film history, U.S. History, etc.).

People commented that it was only for Black people to praise or criticize the film, that the film was new and raw, and that I was the first person to criticize the film.

This lead me to realize that “thinking” in the form of writing is frowned upon and even alien. Written thinking (not “written thought” because “thinking” emphasizes in-progress) is taken much more seriously, potentially, and not allowed the same flexibility as an in-person conversation. No one replied, for instance, asking for clarification or trying to understand what troubled me about the film. In an era of social media and computers, it is vital that we all–including me–grow accustomed to seeing and accepting written thinking as just that–thinking–and not necessarily something that has been fully thought through or that is “final” in any way.

I wrote a follow-up post that said:

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Likewise, people are typically too ready to criticize any criticisms of what is generally regarded as popular and important. As I have written about before, when something is really popular and really enjoyed and really praised, it needs even more critical attention.

So, I recently rewatched Moonlight. The first time, based on trailers, other previews, and reviews, I expected something of a developed love story between two Queer Black men. Because I knew what to expect, I definitely enjoyed it more, but overall, I still find that Moonlight is not as great and as revolutionary or as exciting, as generally held. 

Moonlight deserves praise, certainly, for daring to depict the struggles of and transgressions of Black masculinity. Intersectionality matters. The Black masculinity spotlighted is one that is unable to and one that resists popular mores about the proper role of men, to a large extent. We see a bond develop between a Black child and a Black adult (a father-like figure). Moonlight does not (directly) include any White people. Moonlight does not (directly) include any rich people. Moonlight does not even include any happy people. Moonlight does not center around a heterosexual love story. In these ways, Moonlight breaks all of the “rules” of successful movies. And that is noteworthy.

(For an academic perspective on some of these issues, see “Straight Black Queer: Obama, Code-Switching, and the Gender Anxiety of African American Men.”)

I also recognize that the film has spoken to many people–especially many but not all Queer Folks and/or Peoples of Color–in ways that mainstream Hollywood films simply do not and cannot. 

On the other hand, Moonlight is first and foremost a movie about communities and peoples addicted to drugs and/or dependent on money from selling drugs for basic survival because of White Supremacy, capitalism, and similar forces. We have had so many films tell this same basic story. Super Fly (1972) comes to mind. As bell hooks has said, “we” need positive filmic representations of Blackness. 

Moonlight also shows a Blackness that is violent, physically and psychologically. Black men are violent toward Black women. Black women are violent toward their children. Black children are violent toward other Black children. 

Why does film constantly create links between Black people and between violence, drugs, and underground economies? Such links are unconsciously wired into our brains as representations of reality and these have extremely negative consequences when it comes to voting–just read about cognitive neuroscience. 

Additionally, on a much less serious note, Moonlight is slow-paced and lacks any kind of
“excitement.” I was planning to use almost three hours of class time to show it and discuss it with my Queer Studies students, but I know from experience that at least half of them would fall asleep. I had some trouble staying awake both times I watched it, and I never fall asleep watching a movie. Although, in its own way, its slow pace does make Moonlight unique. Hollywood and White people generally expect everything to be go-go-go and we’re trained to never relax. Enter: Dr. Brittany Cooper’s excellent thoughts about the racialization of time.

To me, it also felt like that the first two actors playing Chiron never really got into their character. I can’t put my finger on it just yet, but when they spoke or did something, it didn’t seem to align with anything else. The other actors were fully believable.

But, regardless of my thoughts, which are still in progress and will certainly keep evolving, that Moonlight won Best Picture is significant, and hopefully it will open the door for other films that “break the rules.” But we need to be careful, a backlash is always possible and historically speaking, more than possible. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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4 replies

  1. The fact that you are still thinking about it speaks to the film’s strength/merit as a film. I KNOW I would not enjoy (if that is the word) it, but that’s me. I am shocked at the backlash you received from the facebook post. Surely people can recognize the attempt to open a conversation and not mistake it for a condemnation of something. All you asked for was to open a conversation, and you were judged unfairly for not liking (as much) something others liked (maybe for the wrong reasons). You are right, so remember, you ARE the expert, not those who failed to take the post as it was intended.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t seem to get my comment posted here, so will try again.

    Somehow I am not shocked at the Facebook response. A bunch of young people have never had the joy of a really good dinnertime conversation or discussion about films, or anything, it seems. In fact, their introduction to really talking with each other seems to be occurring on the least “social” of interactions, “social media.” (Or in a class that uses discussion as its basis for learning). If we as humans want to continue our primary method of “discourse” as social media and the written word, and not the face-to-face method, nor actual use of the spoken word beyond voicemail, we are going to have to create new rules for communication. Many of these might seem obvious to those of us used to using verbal communication with each other, like saying, “I am still thinking about this,” as a trigger for letting people know that what we say is still subject to minor or major modification. It is also a method to say “I want to hear more ideas.” To this newer generation of non-speakers, they might be necessary.

    I think back to what I learned about the early printed word before the Gutenberg press, when the monks in Europe copied many books. It seems that the rules of punctuation, capitalization, paragraph and word spacing were unknown at that time. Sentences like the following were the norm:

    “Allwordswereruntogethernoonecouldreadanythingthatfastbecauseitwassohardtoseparateoutwordsemphasiscodedforbypunctuationandfontwerecompletelyunknown”

    It was remarked that Augustus was very fast and could read without speaking what he read out loud. By that very remark, it is clear that reading was a very noisy act, in general (libraries have clearly changed a lot). The rules established back then were to make it possible to read quickly and quietly. After all, many of the monks who transcribed and translated books WERE cloistered! (Remember the movie, ‘The Name of the Rose’ and the PBS special, ‘The Day the Universe Changed’)?

    Dr. Pegoda, since you have spent a large part of the recent past, as well as your LIFE having to look at things from a very different perspective, you would not be surprised at what you saw in ‘Moonlight.’ But there are a large number of people, especially young adults, for whom the experience related in ‘Moonlight’ is something they have not seen or even considered before as reality for some. And they are at that age when they really want to know about lives that are so different from their own, (for some, are so like their own but know no one else who lived that way). Oh, when we get away from home for the first time we can be soooo quick to judge others. We think we are soooo capable of thinking for ourselves. But not until the age of 50 (when the brain reaches full maturity and has the greatest skill at analysis and understanding) and can look back critically, can they realize how judgmental they were. And some never reach that stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m getting too tired to think too much more tonight :), but thank you for your thoughts.

      I do think it will be really interesting to see what all happens with mores of communication and thinking and technology. Without computers we “misunderstand” each other all the time. Computers will probably only increase this and lead to more frustration, especially when and where anonymity is at play, too. In ways, we see very serious forms of it all the time in various Facebook threads that have thousands and thousands of followers.

      I see your point about “Moonlight” being much more revolutionary and new for its intended audience. I do wonder how it will be viewed in a few years or decades. Will it be one earmarked for special preservation?

      Sorry you had trouble leaving a comment! I don’t know what happened. I’ve had that happen a few times on various pages hosted by WordPress. Usually, I’ll try to remember to copy my comments before hitting submit in case they disappear, but even this doesn’t work sometimes.

      Talk to you more soon!

      Liked by 1 person

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