Over the past month, Black social media has been universally cheering and celebrating the critical and economic successes of two unapologetically Black films. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘Moonlight’ won the Oscar for Best Picture, though in true American fashion, not without a little fuckery of the “majority” (insert side eye here), and with Jordan Peele’s self-ascribed social thriller, ‘Get Out’ , he achieved unprecedented success and became the first Black Writer/Director to cross the $100 Million mark with a single film. However, now that the proverbial dust has settled and the thrill of sensationalism has subsided, it’s time to talk candidly about what the rest of us independent and “aspiring” whatever-it-is(es) can glean from these successes, without of course, making ourselves feel like failures. Many of us are often in the flux of creation, sometimes on the brink of artistic depression because the obstacles of moving from vision to execution seem so insurmountable. Corporatism and the institutionalized racism of capitalism can leave us as creatively dry as Becky’s DM’s after the basketball team went out together to go see ‘Get Out’. But with these films alas there is a glimmer of hope; here are several things we can learn:
- “Black people are not a monolith”, is more than just a catch phrase of the young, black, and socially enlightened. It is a MANDATE for Black creatives everywhere to step beyond the traditionally comfortable and tell authentic stories of their lived experiences. We’ve heard it, tweeted, or even said it in response to someone as they try to categorically limit the variable range of our lived experiences, but honestly speaking, when we are creating and producing for public consumption, we often ask ourselves, “Is this relatable? ”. This drive to create in a manner that is relatable can be downright stifling. Hell, lets’s be frank, as it relates to movies, for many years, if it wasn’t about slaves, a biopic, about black yuppies gathered at a wedding or funeral, or about the streets, it was not about to get any big screen play. However, the daring innovation of ‘Get Out’ and ‘Moonlight’ reminded us that though there may be recurring themes in many of our stories, there are so many layers that have yet to be revealed. So go ahead, write that play about Black nerds, or that song about the time you were in a polyamorous relationship. Whatever your truth may be, no matter how “out of the norm” you think it is, a good creation is a good creation and people will pay attention.
- Being independent is the Sh*t! If we have no takeaways at all, it is that we must stop clamoring for the “BIG BREAK”. From Chance the Rapper to ‘Moonlight’ we learned that though the road less travelled may be longer, it has its rewards. For so long, we have allowed institutions, record labels, publishing houses, production companies, and more to dictate our timeline of success, as well as the scope thereof. ‘Moonlight’ proves that you can do it YOUR WAY and still make it. So, keep collaborating with that dope cinematographer that nobody knows, keep performing at the local lounge, and build your own village; create your own machine. Sometimes there is more value in the purpose than in the position. If you find yourself under the auspice of some corporate giant and have to alter your vision, is it really success?
- Black people have been and always will be the tastemakers and trendsetters. Audiences for both ‘Get Out’ and ‘Moonlight’ were both overwhelmingly black. ‘Get Out’ outperformed its genre’s predecessors week after week based on the support of Black patrons. This melanin fueled success, is a refreshing reminder that WE are enough, and that quite frankly, the rest of the world stands up and takes notice when we collectively support one another.
- The more we create, the more we control our own narrative. ‘Get Out’ has sparked a nationwide conversation about race and privilege from a perspective that has not frequently been explored in the manner that the film does. ‘Moonlight’ challenged modern idealizations of masculinity and waived its Oscar-winning hand in the face misogyny and homophobia everywhere. Though it is not our job to educate or inform the purveyors of oppression and discrimination, we must as Queen Mother Nina Simone said “reflect the times”.
- You can’t and won’t please everyone. As creatives we desire positive feedback on our work. Erykah Badu’s sensitivity “about my s*t” is a universal trait of us all. However, no matter what we do, as the response to these too BRILLIANT films displayed, our work will always be too gay, too scary, too safe, too queer, too predictable, or too whatever for somebody. This is not a reflection of your work, more as it is indicative of the varied and sometimes AWFUL taste of many. Keep doing you; authentically and unapologetically. For those who don’t like it, pull out your Queen Bey middle finger and keep it moving.
No matter where you sit on the spectrum of creativity, and no matter your form of expression, you can find a message of encouragement in the success of the “underdogs”. Fight through your moments of doubt about your gift and keep on creating masterpieces. This thing is a marathon and not a sprint, so do you, and do it at your own pace. Happy creating!