Nancy Hafkin Interviews Reginald Nettles about our upcoming
MAGPS Cinema Series film, Moonlight
NH: Reggie, I am glad to have a chance to dialogue with you about the film you are presenting at our next Cinema Series. The film has received high praise and has won significant awards in 2016: Best Picture at Golden Globes, Academy Award for the Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and more. The New York Times called it the “Best Film of the 21st Century.” There are plenty of “firsts” for the movie, as well. What do you make of the mistake made in the announcing of a different movie as the Academy Award winner — then the correction?
RN: This snafu could be interpreted in many ways. Could it be that talking about a film that puts “homosexuality” at center stage could have generated anxiety in the presenters? “Hot potato” as a metaphor comes to mind. And this film also puts the stigmas of both racial minority and sexual orientation in the forefront. Not only did we see the stages of a gay boy’s development into manhood, but we saw the effects of horrendous treatment of members of both groups laid bare before us in profound as well as subtle ways.
NH: Do you resonate with the awards and trail breaking nature of the film?
RN: Clearly the awards were well deserved. I certainly resonate with aspects of this film. For me, the trail breaking nature of the film has more to do with the intersectionalities depicted than any of the depictions of particular identities.
NH: What about as a trail breaker in terms of its subject? And what exactly do you mean by “intersectionalities?”
RN: It’s a trail breaker in terms of its subjects, plural; more than its subject, singular. By intersectionalities I mean intersecting minority identities of same-gender sexuality and racial minority, in this instance, in the context of a particular element of African American culture. The contours of both identities are defined in part by stigma, prejudice, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and often, by resultant poverty. There have been earlier films that dealt with combined Black and Gay identities (e.g., Looking for Langston; Brother to Brother), so in that sense, this film gave us another glimpse of Black Gay life in the United States. Moonlight differs from these films in that it shows Black Gay life among members of poor and drug infested communities. And in Moonlight, we see developmental stages in Gay male identity in at least two of the characters. That stages in development within culturally stigmatized identities were shown may be more “trail breaking” than other elements of this film.
NH: Given these Black and Gay intersecting identities in Moonlight do you have ideas about how understanding the characters could assist our membership in understanding ourselves and our clients?
RN: This question may be suggesting that Black male identity and sexual identity among men can be separated. Yet all men have “sexual identity.” Confusion often exists in dialogues about sexual (or gender) identity and sexual (or gender) orientation. In Moonlight, we saw the intersection of minority racial and same-gender sexual orientation in the main characters. We also saw many complexities of male identity among African-American men, and a range of sexual orientations from apparently Straight to apparently Gay. Homophobic reactions toward the latter were also clearly evident in mutually devastating ways. This contrasted with the paternal love and nurturing of the apparently Gay boy by the apparently Straight Black male father figure, who was also a drug dealer.
Understanding these complexities, I believe, can assist all of us in understanding the complexities in the identities of the men (and women) with whom we work. To the extent that we may be blinded by the surrounding cultural milieu, and then not see these complexities, is suggestive of the work we need to do on ourselves in order to optimally benefit our clients. We must be able to see through all the stereotypes to reach and connect with the individuals with whom we work.
NH: Would you agree with one reviewer who said the film is not relevant to a “Straight, White, middle-class” audience?
RH: To see Moonlight as not relevant to a “Straight, White, middle-class” audience speaks to a massive denial of the mutual relevance of these cultures. In many ways, Moonlight, I believe, could have been set in almost any impoverished ghetto in the U.S. and beyond to other cultures affected by similar histories. And, if we look historically, there is much to suggest the genesis of ghettoes in the U.S. to “Straight, White, middle-class” culture.
NH: What do you hope our membership will “take away” from the viewing and discussing of the film?
RN: First, I hope our membership will not take away an understanding that this is the totality of African-American culture. Instead, I hope they will see the setting of Moonlight as one aspect of African-American culture. At the cultural level, I hope people will take away the importance of intersecting minority (e.g. sexual and racial minority) identities and the importance of recognizing both in their clients and perhaps themselves.
I also hope that members will recognize the complexities and the sensitivities of the characters involved. Male identity is rendered more complex in the context of racism, stigma, prejudice and discrimination. Recognizing the importance of these factors can, hopefully, help members recognize that we all have roles to play in the amelioration of the societal dilemmas shown in Moonlight. And, as clinicians, we have much to offer if we can allow ourselves to embrace the totality of our clients.
NH: Thank you, Reggie. I am looking forward to seeing the movie with you.