Alex R. Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight (image credit: Rotten Tomatoes)
I’m a huge sucker for movies. There are so many that make me weepy. Some are more understandably emotional— big sweeping epics like Lord of the Rings or heartstring-tuggers like The Help. Then there are slightly more embarrassing ones, like the first Harry Potter movie or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (strong female friendships plus a MAGICAL PAIR OF JEANS? Pass me the tissues). Every so often, though, I come across a movie that leaves me not in tears, but stunned into silence, wanting to sit still in my theater seat for as long as it takes me to process the masterpiece that just played out across the screen. The only two Best Picture nominees (I guess by the time this is posted, we’ll know who won!) that I had the chance to see this year did just that.
La La Land was one of them. It has its haters; I know, but I adored it. I thought it was the most genuinely beautiful homage to love, to art, to music, to the simple power of dreaming. Maybe it’s because I’ve always dreamt of becoming a writer, and a large part of me believes that it’s impossible. I could relate so much to Emma Stone’s character as she went to audition after audition, served latte after latte, stared longingly at each movie set she passed, more than once coming close to giving up.
And then there was Moonlight. Oh, wow. I’m not sure I’ve even fully processed that one yet. It was almost the exact opposite of La La Land— no catchy musical numbers; no flashy, colorful sets. Just a portrait of one man’s life, childhood to adulthood, simple as that. And yet, it wasn’t so simple— and that was its beauty. I couldn’t relate to it in the way that I could relate to La La Land. Through the eyes of main character Chiron, I instead saw the seemingly inescapable struggles of growing up gay and black in a poor, drug-ridden community. I thought I would just about break in two with how desperately I wanted his story to have a happy ending, but it was so good. SO good.
When La La Land was over, I left the theater wanting to float straight up off the ground and into the stars, maybe grabbing a random stranger to waltz with me on the way. When Moonlight was over, I wanted to sink under the sadness and weight of every racial and social injustice that our society seems so hell-bent on perpetuating. But at the end of both, I thought ironically of the same moment: the first time I ever finished reading Harry Potter.
I just remember closing the seventh book, finally done with thousands of pages of magic and mystery, and feeling so overwhelmingly grateful that J.K. Rowling had dedicated so many years of her life to crafting this incredible series. It was an epiphany of sorts, the first time I remember feeling connected to something so much bigger than myself, something so brave and true and powerful: the art of storytelling. That was eight years ago. I have felt that way dozens of times since, every time I close the pages of a great book or watch the credits roll at the end of a great movie. Getting to step into those stories feels like such a gift.
I like that there is room in the world for both La La Lands and Moonlights: for love and light and darkness and sadness and happiness and beauty all mingled together. I’m so glad people tell stories of all kinds. I’m so glad we can learn from them, the ones that we can relate to and the ones that seem so new and different and eye-opening. I’m so very glad. I think it’s so important, now more than ever.
Perhaps a more accurate beginning statement would be that I’m a sucker for stories, no matter how they are told, so long as they are true in some way. I don’t know that there is anything more beautiful than someone simply telling their truth. You don’t have to be an Oscar nominee or a multimillionaire author to tell your own story. Maybe one day you will be, but you don’t have to be.
Just tell your truth. Tell your story. Someone will listen. And they will be so, so grateful they did.