It’s very easy to dismiss the MTV Movie Awards, which has now expanded to include television and a “trending” category, essentially making it the #contentawards. Yet for all its randomness, corporate mandating and general “How do you do, fellow kids” aura, there’s something truly fascinating about the ceremony. It’s hardly a prestigious affair — you won’t see any Oscars style campaigning for the golden popcorn statue — but this year, the categories and winners reflected the shift MTV has been making over the past year to cater to its increasingly progressive and inquisitive young audience. Like Teen Vogue, MTV, most notably its wonderfully expanded web coverage, is taking its audience seriously in matters of politics, culture, and activism. In a way, it always has.
The intriguing array of nominees included an award for “Best Fight Against the System”, which went to Hidden Figures, a nod to Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya for best of the Next Generation, awards for Black-ish, 13th, RuPaul’s Drag Race and This Is Us, and gender-neutral acting categories where men and women were pretty evenly celebrated. Sure, they also pretended Beauty and the Beast was a good movie and that Emma Watson is an actress, but nobody’s perfect. What it represented was a more realistic representation of what culture young people consume and how they consume it: Viral videos, streaming services, less interest in differentiating between mediums. Yet surely the best moment of the night was the Best Kiss award, which went to Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome from Moonlight.
Sanders said in his acceptance speech, “This award is bigger than Jharrel and I. This represents more than a kiss, it represents those who feel like the others, the misfits, this represents us”. And it was a truly moving moment, one that highlighted an area where MTV is simultaneously moving forward but with a foot still stuck in the past.
Since its beginnings in 1992, the Best Kiss Award has had a total of 18 nominees that were gay or queer, and 4 of those were winners. Some were more comedic in tone (American Pie) while others were romantic and quietly devastating (Brokeback Mountain). For a show that’s ostensibly seen as a bit of a joke, there’s real power in such a silly little award. Of course, it’s not all positive. Only one non-white couple has ever won the award up until Moonlight, and that was Independence Day a grand total of 20 years ago. Oscar season may be over, but the impact Moonlight has had still prevails.
Check out Sanders and Jerome’s speech here.