Tarell Alvin McCraney Accepts GLAAD Award for ‘Moonlight,’ Contemplates the Meaning of “Winning” in Today’s America

The GLAAD Media Awards happened a couple of days ago, but they’re airing tonight on Logo; in advance of the broadcast, Indiewire shared a clip of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s acceptance speech for “Outstanding Film — Wide Release” for Moonlight, which is based on a piece he wrote titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. You can watch it below.

One of the (many) frustrations with the chaotic manner in which the Oscars Best Picture mess-up unfolded was the way in which it prevented Moonlight writer/director Barry Jenkins from delivering the speech he wanted to — a potent speech that Jenkins later shared with the media. It would have begun with “Tarell [Alvin McCraney] and I are Chiron”; McCraney and writer/director Jenkins grew up three blocks away from one another in the same neighborhood of Miami (though they didn’t know each other then) in which Moonlight is set. Jenkins would have continued, “And when you watch Moonlight, you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award. I’ve said that a lot, and what I’ve had to admit is that I placed those limitations on myself, I denied myself that dream. Not you, not anyone else — me. And so, to anyone watching this who sees themselves in us, let this be a symbol, a reflection that leads you to love yourself.”

At the GLAAD awards, which unfortunately will attract a much smaller audience than the Oscars, McCraney ended up delivering one of the better — funnier, more personal, more political, more moving — acceptance speeches in recent memory, miraculously unencumbered by announcement fuck-ups so massive as to lead some people to speculate it’s evidence we live in a simulated universe. As well as referencing Beyoncé’s “Shining” and mentioning the fact that Tracee Ellis Ross told him, “Moonlight was so good I want to punch you in the face,” McCraney — who accepted the award from Mary J. Blige — elaborated on the significance of one of the film’s central relationships, which both he, and later, Jenkins, modeled after their relationships with their mothers. McCraney said:

I would only want to win GLAAD again if I could only show you all how fiercely this black, bisexual woman, through shame, drug addiction, and poverty, how fiercely she loved me; that for poor women of color, doing the best they can to feed their children, sometimes their strength gives out, they fall, and they can’t get back up…I wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue because in 2003 my mother had just died of an AIDS-related complication, and that plague is still running rampant even now. [The piece] was holding a part of me together that would have torn me apart if I had left it inside, and Barry got ahold of that, and he blast that chaos all across the screen and it lit us aglow. What if everyone had a Barry? Would we all win?

McCraney contemplated the nature of “winning” in tumultuous times: “Are we winning when we smile and call our heroes Maxine, but when racist bigots and the media use misogynoir tactics to bring her down? Where are we?” He then responds to the questions he poses:

We win when Trace Lysette knows that when she goes to a meeting about her work, with her script in hand, that they won’t call it ‘niche,’ that they will look past what’s been done, to what’s possible. We win when our children, the ones who’ve gone missing in the night, who’re wondering if they matter — how they matter to us and to the law — when we give them the courage, the tools, and the resources to scatter their lights all across the cinema walls, across this great world.

Beyond In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue — which was never performed theatrically, and wasn’t, as McCraney explained to Flavorwire a while back, really written to be performed — McCraney’s plays have been staged in major theaters in London, New York, Chicago (where he was a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble), and across the States; he’s best known for his Brother/Sister Plays triptych, and was recently appointed the head of the Yale School of Drama’s playwriting program.

Watch the speech: