On the Right Side of History

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The three Chirons at the Oscars: Trevante Rhodes, 27, Alex Hibbert, 12, and Ashton Sanders, 21. Getty photo.

For all its sparkling privilege, Sunday's Oscars ceremony also offered a fierce, joyful, potent "middle finger to Trumpism" by rightfully rewarding the gifts and narratives of black/brown/gay/poor people, Muslims and all the other "others" threatened or marginalized by the current regime. From the many righteous speeches extolling tolerance and incessant (albeit gentle) Trump-trolling to the diverse wins - by an Iranian filmmaker who with foreign colleagues had blasted and boycotted the travel ban, by a record number of African-American artists, and by the great Mahershala Ali, the first Muslim to win for his extraordinary performance in Moonlight - the evening represented the triumph of both empathy and "justice when that seems impossible." It also reaffirmed the vital role played by the stories we tell and the images we see. And it offered a glad  reminder of the strength in numbers: If anyone's inhabiting a cultural bubble these hateful days, it ain't us.

Nothing reflected that as much as the startling, richly deserved award to Moonlight for Best Picture. Though coverage often focused on the snafu announcing the wrong winner - cue flood of online Putin/Comey/Clinton jokes - the real news is Moonlight itself. The low-budget, searing, soulful coming-of-age tale of a gay black boy - as one wondrous admirer notes, a story about "QUEER. BLACK. PEOPLE." - explores class, addiction, masculinity, homophobia, repression, reconciliation and African-American stereotypes, including Trevante Rhodes' and Ali's tender, deeply human drug dealers, with honesty and grace. Set in the Miami housing projects where creators Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney both grew up and with a riveting all-black cast, the film is gorgeous, painful, achingly real. It's also transformative, a rare affirmation, writes one gay black man, "that we're supposed to exist." And most vitally right now, it's "on the right side of history." If you haven't yet, see it.

Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney sent their award-winning screenplay "out to all those black and brown boys and girls (who) don’t see themselves" in the culture: “For all you people out there who feel like there’s no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected...The ACLU has your back. We have your back. And for the next four years we won’t leave you alone. We will not forget you.”

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