Editorial: Art and life: One and the same, thanks to ‘Moonlight’

The co-writer and director of “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins, visited the University on March 28 as the guest of honor in the University’s second annual Diversity Summit. The theme of this year’s summit was “Identity, Inclusion and Social Transformation: Centering Gender, Power and Privilege,” all of which were reflected in both Jenkins’ keynote speech, the preceding Community Dinner focused on gender, and the more than 20 educational workshops held on March 29.

The argument over which imitates which, life or art, is one that spans centuries and continents and schools of thought. It is one that invites the question of whether the two can coexist and motivate one another simultaneously, reflecting both the strongest and most vulnerable aspects of society. It is an argument seen in the success of the Best Picture-winning film “Moonlight,” a film that weaves a complex tale of race and sexual identity and class in 111 heart-rending minutes of technically excellent cinematography.

Tensions over race, gender, class, and sexual identity (to name a few) have abounded in recent years at the University. Jenkins alluded to this in his observation that while the gender disparity on campus favors the female population, the Greek system with its exclusively male fraternity houses creates an unequal power dynamic.

Just a year after the #OscarsSoWhite backlash for the lack of racial diversity in the awards show nominees, the importance of a film about a poor black boy who is gay and growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami can’t be underestimated. In his keynote, Jenkins focused largely on the mirror-like quality of his style of film—if a young black person can’t see what it looks like for a character to drive a narrative, rather than vice versa, they begin to feel invisible and like their own character can’t drive their own narrative.

This was echoed in the decision to center the Diversity Summit on gender; gender is an aspect of every person’s life, whether they realize it or not, and elevating the importance thereof can be literally life-changing. The life-changing nature of these issues’ increased visibility was also referenced by Jenkins in his keynote, and again in several of the workshops on March 29 where inclusion and the eradication of -isms in Jewish and Catholic texts was emphasized. Other workshops focused on the role of women in the media and men as allies to inclusion, and the culminating event focused on gender equality in the Black Lives Matter movement vis-a-vis music.

It would be foolish to underestimate the impact of discussing race and sexuality in conjunction with gender and conceptions thereof. The diligent and conscientious work of the Diversity Summit and those who organized it is vital to the goals of ameliorating perceptions and practices relating to diversity both at the University and beyond.

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