African American actors have often been sidelined for way too long. Always getting roles that stereotypically represent black life in a select light. Stellar and fleshy roles have been hard to come by especially for black actresses. They have had to struggle more than their white colleagues to get hired and to get good pay. Sadly, even after the struggle- the roles landed mostly oscillated towards the periphery such as maids, slaves or thugs. Consequently, nominations for awards were few and those who walked away with the trophies were even fewer. However, this narrative is changing as more and more African American actors are given substantial leading and supporting roles in big movies.
From the increased number of African Americans winning various awards year after year, they perfectly fit the bill. This has helped in breaking down the color barrier in the industry and the African Americans are being banked on, more than ever before. Besides acting, most of these actors are working to educate and empower people in black communities and also in Africa, where it may even help eradicate poverty and diseases, and are vocal enough to donate towards conservation efforts.
The 89th Academy Awards ceremony took place on February 26, 2017 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The highest number of African Americans nominated in various categories walked away with the golden statues that evening. However this live event was viewed by a record low audience, the ratings actually improved in an event that took place towards the end of the show. Presenting the last award- The Best Picture Category- Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway wrongly announced “La La Land” as the winner. The overall lack to correct the error in time left the “La La Land” crew being stopped right in the middle of their acceptance speech- just so the award could be given to the actual winners of the film: Moonlight. The error had been traced to a mix-up of envelopes, however industry rumors suggest that it was all a media stunt to boost ratings.
Despite the mix up and obvious embarrassment for the La La Land crew, not a single member of the Moonlight production was actually black besides featuring an all-black cast! The movie itself follows the life of an African American gay man named ‘Chiron’- from childhood, through his teenage years and into adulthood. It highlights his struggle in an unstable family, difficulties with accepting his sexuality and the abuse that came with it. Emotionally abused by his mother, and bullied at school for being gay. A narrative that is commonly seen in US schools and universities to empower the LGBT agenda but opposed in many parts of Europe and especially Africa. However, due to its strong gay theme, it will definitely not be a favorite among the conservative groups, including the Catholic church and the Muslim religion -but has marked major history in film classifying Moonlight as the first LGBT-themed film! The fact that its cast is all black is a loud statement that will help in making the movie industry more inclusive and diverse.
Barry Jenkins directed the movie and he had co-written it with Tarrel McCraney. It’s based on the play 'In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue' by Tarrel McCraney. Chiron the adult (called Black) is played by Trevante Rhodes who is a former track and field sprinter. Mahershala Ali plays Juan a Cuban drug dealer, the role that won him the Oscar for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role, making him the only Muslim to achieve such a feat. Go figure is also a rapper too. With his girlfriend Teresa, he takes in the young Chiron while struggling with childhood under his crack addicted mother.
Andre Holland plays Kevin, Chiron's closest friend. Naomie Harris is also black British actress who plays Paula in Moonlight-the emotionally abusive mother of Chiron. While her role as a realistic crack addict, in real life- Naomie helps the homeless as an ambassador of ‘Save the Children' which fights for women and children's rights. She has also supported 'Action 2015' that seeks implementation of New Global Goals to fight against inequality, poverty and global warming. Janelle Monae a singer, songwriter, model and actress plays the role of Teresa -Juan's girlfriend who is also a friend to Chiron and spends time with him even after Juan's death. She is vocal in fighting for the rights of children, women and the disadvantaged through her music and other avenues.
Considering this was low budget film costing $1.5 USD, the box office success has earned nearly 30 million thus far. Now by all means, with a movie as heartbreaking as this to watch, it does tell a powerful story that reflects modern problems in society. If you haven’t seen Moonlight yet, it’s worth checking out.