Why “Moonlight” Gives Us Hope for the Indie Movie

I’ve always been a fan of truly creative, innovative films. I’ve always been a movie buff, but as I grew up, I became aware of the existence of the independent film – and once I realised just how innovative they can be, I became a big fan.

Films not made by the big Hollywood studios, churned out by the machine… but smaller budget films, which took more risks. Which gave more power to the creators and opportunities to unknown directors with a fresh voice.

The more I looked, the more I noticed how many groundbreaking films were actually independent movies. Shallow Grave. Being John Malcovich. Lost In Translation. Reservoir Dogs. Donnie Darko. And one of my all time favourite independent movies, Chris Nolan’s Memento.

Landmark movies, fresh, creative, innovative. Indeed. Empire magazine even listed the first Terminator movie – small budget, unknown director and lead actor – as an independent movie.

And this year two of the most critically acclaimed movies – Lion and Moonlight – were independent movies. Moonlight actually won two Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor. (Lion was nominated in the latter category too).

Moonlight’s triumph, for me, was even more of an achievement, given it was up against a movie, La La Land, which was essentially a love letter to Hollywood, a romanticised hark back to the dream of Hollywood, to the story Hollywood likes to speak about itself.

For a movie like Moonlight, which confronted both homophobia and racism, and was groundbreaking and thought provoking, to defeat La La Land at the Oscars, was a phenomenal achievement.

No doubt, Moonlight deserved it’s win. In terms of moviemaking, as a piece of cinematic art, screen acting, writing, and direction, it was clearly vastly superior to La La Land.

And the triumph of Moonlight gave me hope for the independent movie. Because, for me, recently we’ve seen all too few great independent movies from truly fresh creative voices. And the movie world misses those.

To maintain the quality of the movies we see, we need new, talented directors with fresh voices pushing the boundaries, raising the bar in terms of storytelling and filmmaking. It keeps the big studios on their toes, it shows them what can be achieved, and drives them to do better.

And even more importantly, it means the stories we need to see in movies – stories which make us think, which challenge our culture, which confront the truths we like to hide and tell stories which need to be told – as both Moonlight and Lion did – get shared with the world.

Will Hollywood Take A Chance?

What I’d love to see though, is movies like Moonlight and Lion being green-lit by major studios. I’d love to see Hollywood take more creative risks, and invest money in making and distributing movies by young directors, with a fresh voice, and powerful and thought provoking stories.

The sad thing about Moonlight, was it only got a limited release. Not everyone had heard of the movie before it won it’s Oscar. Much like The Shawshank Redemption (which wasn’t an independent film, but only got a wider audience after it’s 7 Oscar nominations.). I didn’t get a chance to see Moonlight until after it won it’s Oscars.

What I’d love to see is Hollywood daring to put these movies before a wider audience. Daring to fail. True creativity is always a risk. Giving edgy, thought provoking but truly creative movies an opportunity to go to a wider audience would be a risk – but it would mean these important stories, and powerful messages, would get the larger audience they deserve.

That said, the recognition Lion and Moonlight have received will give genuine hope to independent filmmakers. Having seen both movies nominated for major Oscars, and in particular, Moonlight winning Best Picture, it will give confidence to smaller studios to take chances on challenging, thought provoking stories, and untested directors.

Indeed, it will give young or emerging writers and directors genuine hope their stories can get heard, and there is the opportunity, if they are courageous and work hard, for them to get the recognition their talents, and their stories, deserve.

And thanks to the independent moviemakers, we will gain a richer, more innovative and truly inspiring movie experience,


  • James Prescott is a writer, author, writing coach and podcaster from Sutton, near London in the UK. He recently released his first book ‘Mosaic Of Grace’ which became a #2 Amazon Bestseller. He’s a movie-buff with a particular love of thought-provoking, innovative films, and is a comic-book movie and Star Wars geek. You can find his work at jamesprescott.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at @JamesPrescott77. He’s also written for the film website HeyUGuys.com.


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