I’m pretty sure that the upper echelon of television and film critics find the MTV Movie & TV Awards’ Best Kiss category to be immature fodder. And noting the fact that Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson won for the Twilight franchise four times in a row, I don’t blame them. The kisses nominated are usually the most passionate part of an otherwise dull or weird on-screen relationship. Last night’s show brought about a welcome change, though, when Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome took home the evening's signature prize for locking lips in Moonlight. I’ve never cheered so hard for any nominee in this category, and I think the win is a pretty big deal.
The most obvious reason is that Moonlight needs to win everything it’s nominated for because it’s just that good of a movie. There, I said it. There is also the fact that MTV Movie & TV Awards isn’t known for honoring same-sex moments in this category. I get it. Many films and television shows for teens are just now deciding which side of the fence they want to be on when it comes to LGTBTQ representation. Thanks to lineups on networks like The CW and Freeform, television programming marketed for younger audiences has typically taken same-sex relationships — and kisses — a lot more seriously. However, MTV has never looked in that direction until now, as this is the first year the network included TV in the nominations. With only one or two exceptions, the ceremony has thus far been the awards show version of barsexuals, shining a light on a singular moment of physical contact between two people of the same gender for shits and giggles.
Anyone who has seen Moonlight, however, knows that the tender scene between teenage Chiron and his friend Kevin is anything but frill. It is a moment of sexual revelation for Chiron, who has been struggling with the ramifications of being queer ever since his childhood. Not only is this an important moment of visibility for queer people of color on the big screen, it is a true example of diversity and inclusivity. All young people in love/lust are not straight. All queer young people are not white. All queer people of color are not wealthy. I could keep going.
So much of the progress we see in Hollywood seems to be happening in baby steps, even especially when the content is relevant to younger audiences. Following accusations that the industry lacks diversity, we see more people of color, but they’re mysteriously assimilated with all of the white people around them. We get a few LGBTQ characters, but we never get a glimpse in the vibrant subcultures that they call home. I appreciate that young viewers have spoken back with this category to say: We appreciate complex stories and identities. We don’t need dumbed down versions of diversity, or uncomplicated representations of love. It’s a response I hope to see repeated in years to come.