"This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming [people] who don't see themselves."
— Tarell Alvin McCraney, accepting the 2017 adapted screenplay Oscar for "Moonlight" with Barry Jenkins.
The 2017 Oscars was as politically charged as expected. From host Jimmy Kimmel's mocking of the president during his opening monologue to Ava DuVernay's conscious decision to wear a gown by a Lebanese designer, a multitude of A-listers used the 89th Academy Awards' platform to highlight injustice promoted by the Trump administration's foreign and domestic policies.
But the biggest demonstration against Mr. Trump's regime was not found in the blue ribbons many celebrities wore in support of the American Civil Liberties union; it was in the seemingly miraculous best picture victory of the underdog "Moonlight," a movie representing those often shunted to the margins of society: black and LGBTQ Americans. The fact that the win was originally handed to "La La Land," a film that glorified old, white Hollywood, then rescinded after the mistake was realized, added to the unreality of it all — and the symbolism of the achievement.
"Moonlight" was to the Oscars what marginalized communities are to American society: minorities struggling for place in a social structure carefully designed to exclude them from participation. "La La Land," on the other hand, is white privilege personified. It grossed $140.9 million in the month since nominations were announced in late January, while the low-budget coming of age story about a young black man growing up in Miami raked in a total of $1.5 million at the box office.
This David and Goliath battle became a metaphor for the current political climate in the United States, where a white majority voted for a party representing policies skewed against minority groups in apparent reaction to their progress in recent years.
For some of us, the Oscars was Nov. 8th all over again, and we waited with baited breath to see if white America would make the right choice this time around. If "La La Land" walked away with the Oscar for best picture this year, it meant that white supremacy extended far beyond Middle America, where Mr. Trump's core constituency is based, and that efforts to diversify Hollywood are just for show — along with the supposed protections afforded to all by the American Constitution.
All through his election campaign, Mr. Trump signaled his intolerance toward "black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming" individuals. Then, within a few weeks of assuming office, he proved his rhetoric was more than just speech-making, having signed an immigration ban and revoking inclusive public school guidelines regarding transgender bathroom rights.
With a bill granting U.S. citizens the liberty to discriminate based on their religious beliefs in the pipeline and consistent calls for Mexico's president to fund a wall barring access to the United States, the Trump administration is evidently dead set on its mission to disenfranchise the LGBTQ community and people of color.
Hence, this Oscar win is very much for those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming individuals dealing with the consequences of bigotry, hysteria and misinformation — or what the New York Times would call "lies." It says to them their lives and their stories may not fit the razzle-dazzle template of Hollywood, America's key cultural export, but that they are equally important and worth telling. In short: Their lives matter.
This demonstration went far beyond placards and calls for action — it was action; it was progress in light of all the regressive policies proposed by the White House. It was, perhaps, the beacon of light needed in trying times for the American people.
Angelo C. Louw (Twitter: @_MrLo) is the advocacy officer at Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), a South African think-tank dealing with poverty in the region. He is currently a Fulbright/Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow based at the University of Maryland. He writes in his personal capacity.
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