Film Review on Moonlight (directed by Barry Jenkins)
Moonlight (directed by Barry Jenkins) is about an African-American boy named Chiron. The movie was separated into three parts to demonstrate the personal growth that the character endures throughout his different stages of life. The first act is when you become introduced to Chiron, an introverted and socially outcast boy. He doesn’t speak to strangers, doesn’t enjoy playing soccer with boys his age, as well as not sticking up for himself. When a drug dealer named Juan finds him inside of an abandoned house, running away from bullies, the man takes it upon himself to try to help the boy become tougher. The second act follows Chiron around during high school. Forced to live with his addict prostitute of a mother, bullied relentlessly about his femininity, and exploring his sexuality are the many challenges he had to face during the act. The life stage came to an end with Chiron being sent to a Juvenile Detention Centre after standing up for himself with violent actions. The final act begins with Chiron, now an adult, living in Atlanta instead of Miami. Trying to start anew in addition to attempting to forget about his hardships in the past, he changes himself. When his childhood best friend (and coincidentally the only person who’s ever been sexual with him) calls him, hoping to catch up with Chiron, the main character officially begins the healing and closure aspect of the act. Hoping in his car, he began his journey back to Miami. Firstly, he talks to his mother, trying to fix their shattered relationship. He also ends the movie crying with Kevin after admitting that he is the only person to have ever touched him. The film ends with showing Chiron from the first act in the moonlight. The most prominent themes within this film are masculinity, sexual identity, and vulnerability. Each theme has a very important role that shaped Chiron's identity.
Masculinity and the stereotypes connected to it, were without a doubt the most distinguished theme throughout this film. Every challenge that Chiron was thrown into head first, could relate back to the typically masculine actions that he was skipping out of. The audience's first interaction with this issue was when the film displayed the boys playing soccer together. Chiron would try to stay far back, so he wouldn’t have to play, but he was still included. When the other boys noticed, they tried to hold him still so he would kick the ball instead of backing away from it. If Kevin hadn't noticed, he would have most likely, gotten beat up or teased for not being a boy. His own mother found it a problem that he wasn’t strong and built like the other men, as well as having different interests. His mom, Paula, let him know that because he wasn’t built the same as his age group, he wasn’t man enough. The next prime example of his lack of masculinity was the beginning of the second act when Terrell was harassing him in front of the Biology class about needing a tampon. This was showing that he was constantly seen as feminine and that made him gay. When Kevin proceeds to beat him up, Chiron stands his ground trying to seem more masculine and hard, as opposed to his shy, quiet, softer self. The next day he proceeds to stand up for himself by beating Terrell with a chair, becoming violent, like men were supposed to do. The final act portrays Chiron in a whole new way. The once runt of a child is now incredibly muscular, and is trapping. He’s made quite the name for himself and has others view him as masculine, seemingly modeling himself after Juan, the only father figure he had in his life. He gave into his peers ideals and became a “man”, being stripped of emotion, buff, and not taking anything from anyone.
Chiron’s sexual identity plays a huge role into why he doesn’t fit the stereotypes given to him for being a black man. In the 1980’s being gay was a greatly stigmatized existence, and would get people killed, especially people of colour. If you weren’t killed or thrown into jail, you were without a doubt, seen as feminine, girly, nothing like a man. Which contributes to Chiron’s lack of masculinity. Not only was it uncomfortable to display his sexuality, it was also incredibly difficult to get behind the homophobic ideals and mindsets that his race and sex held onto. The first scene where you get to meet Chiron, he is running away from children his age while they scream behind him, “Get his gay ass” and later during the first act he asks Juan what a “fa*got” is, presumably he had gotten into an argument with his mother the night before, based on the unsettling scene of them staring at each other across the house hallway. Growing up as a child into teenage years, all he would hear is himself being called gay slurs because he wasn’t masculine enough, so why would he want to be gay, but at the same time, he didn’t want to be the man that everyone wanted him to be. Later on, once Chiron is back in Biology class, his tormentor goes on to talk about AIDS and being gay and how Chiron would know all about it. Chiron continues on with his day, until he starts to walk to Teressa’s place, Juan’s girlfriend. Terrell and his friend Pizzo catch up with him and goes on to talk about Paula being a prostitute and sexual remarks about Teressa. Once Chiron has had enough, he goes to attack Terrell. The bully takes this as Chiron coming onto him, talking about how he will wreck Chiron sexually as well as “get head” from both Paula and Chiron at the same time. He then proceeds to make fun of his tight jeans, and how they represent homosexuality. Shortly after Chiron arrives at the beach, Kevin appears as well. One thing leads to another and Chiron gains his first experience with coming to terms with his sexuality. Kevin later makes a comment about how it’s clear the Chiron had never done anything like that before. The last scene in act three implies that Kevin and Chiron, in the moonlight, are together once again, the second time Chiron had ever been touched.
The last theme, vulnerability, is typically shown at night, under the moonlight, however, one of the only scenes where this is not the case is when Kevin and Chiron were playing soccer. Kevin was bothering Chiron about being bullied and that he needed to show everyone that he wasn’t soft, that told the audience that he was vulnerable for not sticking up for himself and not being manly enough to put an end to it. Juan told Chiron the story about when he lived in Cuba, an elderly lady told him that in the moonlight he looked blue. This gives the idea that at night you can be a different person because you don’t look the same, you can be vulnerable because when the morning comes, you go back to being who you’re supposed to be. The most important scene that projects vulnerability is the beach scene, this is the only time anything remotely homosexual takes place on screen and Chiron and Kevin partake in homosexual actions. This puts both boys into vulnerable and scary positions because if anyone were to find out they would most likely be murdered. The last act takes place at night, under the moonlight. Chiron becomes incredibly vulnerable, crying about his lack of attraction and homosexual acts, admitting that the time when Kevin and him were sixteen was the only time he had been touched, following with them once again, being a whole different level of close. The last scene was “little” Chiron at the beach, under the moonlight. The closing was of him standing at the beach, at peace with all of his trauma.
I enjoyed the movie, however I feel as though the last act lacked complete and meaningful closure. If he had seen Teressa, thanking her for being there for him, the movie would have felt as if it had come full circle. Although I won’t have to struggle with being a gay black man in the 80’s, I can understand the struggles of coming to terms with your sexuality, as well as familial addiction burdens. When I realized I was a part of the LGBT community, I had grown up hearing peers around me using gay and gay slurs as insults, and coming to terms with it was difficult. I also have a drug addict sister. She disappears for years on end, and when she appears it is to beg for money, somewhat like Paula did during the second act. A lot of Chiron’s intersectionality was because he was a black man and also gay. He was teased for not fitting the masculine black stereotypes set out for him, being teased for being gay, which he ended up being. The 80’s were a hard time to be black and gay, and I feel like the film had done the time frame justice.