Is LGBTQ-themed Moonlight too gay for IFE?

While most of the major Oscar buzz at last year’s Telluride Film Festival revolved around splashy studio fare like La La Land, Arrival and Sully, the real award season game-changer turned out to be writer-director Barry Jenkins’ beautifully understated Moonlight. And though the film debuted to rapturous reviews and sell-out crowds at the festival, even many of Moonlight’s most ardent supporters admitted that a micro-budgeted independent film about the sexual awakening of a young, LGBTQ black man in Miami – however masterfully written, produced, acted and directed it may be – might be a hard sell with older, whiter and predominately straighter Academy members back in Hollywood.

Fortunately for all involved, the exact opposite proved to be true and Moonlight went on to become one of the most honored films of the year, taking home more than 180 awards at film festivals and award shows around the world, including top honors at the Independent Spirit Awards, the NAACP Image Awards and the Golden Globes. And last month, Moonlight made Oscar history by becoming the first LGBTQ film to win the Academy Award for Best picture.

But with award season now firmly in the rearview mirror, some have wondered why a buzz-worthy art house smash like Moonlight has had such a relatively slow roll-out on the IFE front. For while the film was released on DVD and Blu Ray last month and is currently available to stream and download on your device of choice when you fly (and even at Redbox!) Moonlight has yet to make its inflight debut. This despite the fact that other Best Picture nominees like La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, Arrival, and Hell or High Water have been playing on IFE systems for weeks.

So, what gives?

Is Moonlight’s slow roll-out on IFE screens another facet of indie distributor A24’s masterful marketing strategy – which, by the way, is working wonders on the foreign theatrical front where the film has taken in more than $24 million to date versus its domestic haul of $27.7 million – or is Moonlight‘s LGBTQ subject matter, as some film geek frequent fliers have pondered, just a little too indie or a little too diverse for some airlines to handle?

“I’m not sure that airlines and CSPs look specifically at who the producer of a film is,” says Neal Rothman, president of Entertainment in Motion (EMI), the Global Eagle Entertainment company that is distributing Moonlight to the airlines. “They look at the profile of the film itself: genre, box office, critic’s reviews, cast, etc.. Obviously when a film wins the Best Picture Oscar it has a higher profile based on that, regardless of who’s behind it. But independent films in general can be very appealing to certain airlines, so I don’t think it’s accurate to generalize that indie films are a hard sell with carriers.”

With that said, Rothman admits that “LGBTQ subject matter can be challenging for certain airlines, particularly in more conservative parts of the world, and with Moonlight specifically, we had the challenge of editing the film while keeping Barry Jenkins’ artistic vision intact. But A24 have been great partners in crafting a deal that made sense for both sides and in helping us address the content sensitivities, and we’re both very happy with the reception by airlines and CSPs to the film.”

And as far as any perceived anti-LGBTQ bias goes, Rothman insists that there really hasn’t been any. “Actually the reason [Moonlight] hasn’t shown up yet [in-flight] is that it is being made available to airlines in April,” explains Rothman. “You’ll find that many airlines will have the film on their IFE systems starting April 1st [yesterday].”

Indeed, Moonlight was among the films showing on Swiss’ IFE systems yesterday on a flight from San Francisco to Zurich, as part of a batch of Oscar-winning movies available to passengers. But time will tell if a broad swath of airlines adopt this groundbreaking film for their IFE.

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