Cinematic land mines

I loved “Moonlight.”

I loved its understated gorgeousness. I loved its performances. I loved the low but captivating light in which it was shot. I loved how it made five million important-to-mankind points without ever stopping to take itself seriously enough to overly emphasize one.

I love Mahershala Ali. I loved Remy from the moment he brought his angry dignity to “House of Cards,” and I loved Cottonmouth’s broken brutality on “Luke Cage.” I vaguely remember him on “Crossing Jordan,” a show five other people and I watched at 3 a.m. on A&E. I loved his description of how he and his ordained Christian minister mother came to terms with his conversion to Islam when he won a Golden Globe for bringing Juan to fabulous, flawed life.

I loved the performances of all three actors who were Chiron. All were mesmerizing and dumbfounding, most especially Ashton Sanders, who conveyed all the unjust heartbreak that is high school in the tension of his neck, the set of his jaw, the silent sea of his eyes. Alex Hibbert is no less a revelation, and Trevante Rhodes, as the adult Black, was walking tangled sinew and mind muscles. When the adult Kevin cooks for him, it was such a pure expression of love that I cried. When Black raises his eyes, finally, to look at Kevin, there is so much said, and unsaid, in that look that it took my breath away and left me concave, panting, searching for the air leached by that gaze.

I love that “Moonlight” won the Oscar for movie of the year. I hate the circumstances under which it won. 

Full disclosure: I was pulling for a “Hidden Figures” upset. That story, so important, so well-told, so absent of the mawkish sentimentality that could have tarnished it, resonated deep within me. I used to live near Hampton, Va., where these ladies worked at NASA. While I adored Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of actual American hero Katherine Johnson, I stood internally and cheered for Octavia Spencer when Kirsten Dunst’s buttoned-down, acceptably racist-white-woman character at last afforded her the much-deserved title of “Ms. Vaughan.” I owned nothing of these women’s stories; yet, being a woman, I could claim a tiny piece.

I would have been happy with either movie winning the Oscar. I’d also seen, in a last-minute binge, “Arrival,” which I found thought-provoking but nowhere near as effective or affecting.

As I sit here, watching basketball, I cannot help but think. I think about games played largely by young African-American men, games owned and controlled by old white establishment puppetmasters. I will not call these sports that beat within my heart and pump my blood slavery, as some have. It is a despicable word, and to apply it to such – especially with no personal or ancestral knowledge – seems somewhat obscene. I don’t understand the intricacies of the multiple lawsuits pending against the NCAA well enough to attempt to discuss them, even without having consumed two of my beloved Belgians.

I do know that it takes only a modicum of awareness to realize there is labor, or talent – people – generating a huge, entertainment-based profit in which they are legally prohibited from sharing. It’s part of a system that benefits those which systems have always benefited.

For most of my life – perhaps owing to my former profession – a large number of my friends have been men. In several instances that I thank God for, those men have been black. We have gone to dinner and out for drinks and to shoot pool and we have laughed and talked and shared our lives. I have felt looks, from all sides, and judgment of every shade. I have kept talking, and laughing, and sharing.

I thought about this in considering which movie I wanted to win the Oscar. I tried to search my heart. Did I, in any way, feel deserving of any white-gilded congratulations for watching these movies, for seeking them out, for loving them? Do I, in any soul-searing honest discussion, consider myself above the internet trolls who propagate a conspiracy theory or call “Moonlight” a n----- movie solely because I, in that overdone racist tripe of self-apologizing bigots everywhere, have black friends? Appreciate black culture? Have no problem admitting I can – yay, me! – find black men attractive?

I hope not. Here’s the thing. I do see color. I see it and acknowledge it and try to wrap my mind around the message it is trying to convey. I know it is different from me. I think it is sycophantic and self-serving and borderline stupid to deny the existence of the difference. I think the better course of action is to recognize it and try to learn from it.

In the course of my sportswriting career, did I hear people lament that there were no white players in the games historically loved by those doing the lamenting? Of course I did. I do. It is a complicated subject. People joke about the Great White Hopes that come along, and it is meant to be harmless, progressive, enlightened. For the most part, I see it as such. I do not think a system in which the most talented, long denied opportunity, rise to the top is a bad system.

Is that an unknowing, privileged, racist statement? Possibly. I don’t mean it as such. I do not think the Oscars meant to make a dying establishment statement by committing a monumentally embarrassing mistake. I regret that the cast and crew of “Moonlight” were denied their rightful acceptance and heartfelt thanks.

I do not think I saw the best black movies of the year, and in my recent memory. I think I saw the best movies.

I do not think that makes me an enlightened person, white or otherwise. I hope it makes me human.