A Review: ‘Moonlight’ is about ALL of us
“Moonlight is a — insert a series of emotive adjectives that actually mean the same thing — about one black gay man’s struggle to come into his own.”
It’s the heading I have seen over and over again since news of the indie drama began to spread throughout the country. After I saw the trailer, I knew I had to see this movie. I knew, from the trailer, this movie would speak to the sensibilities and emotions of so many I knew including myself. I knew this movie would be an important statement for the Black community as well as the LGBT community, as well as the religious community, as well as — well, every community.
And as I sat through a screening in Atlanta earlier this week, I was met with a reality I had not considered — Moonlight is about so much more than being gay and the struggles that come with it.
Moonlight, which centers on Chiron, a Black boy in drug-infested Miami, who struggles to find his way in the midst of addiction, bullying, abandonment and poverty, is about our inability to allow someone to fully and freely be who they are, without judgement, without force, without shame.
We, and yes I do mean all of us, are so hell bent on making everyone like us. This political season is a perfect example — I won’t get into all the nuances because many others have written extensively (including myself) about the rhetoric permeating the airwaves that are rife with “us versus them” sensibilities.
If someone does not think like us, speak like us, dress like us, live like us, talk like us or remind us of us, then there is something wrong with them.
We do it in our churches.
We do it in our families.
We do it on our jobs.
We do it every day.
And then there comes a movie that says, “A person should not be made to feel awful about who they are and if they do feel awful about who they are, it us OUR fault.”
That movie is Moonlight.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, whose first movie Medicine for Melancholy, which was critically acclaimed, directed and wrote the screenplay for Moonlight. The movie, broken up into three parts, chronicles the experiences of Chiron, an only child, growing up in Miami’s Liberty City
But, the movie is also about Juan — the drug dealer who is black and Cuban, who becomes an unofficial Godfather to Chiron. Juan, we learn in the movie, has his own childhood issues that, in many ways, influences who he becomes as an adult. And at the same time, finds himself responsible for what is missing in Chiron’s life — stability at home.
Moonlight is about Paula, Chiron’s mother, a drug addict struggling to have her own freedom in the midst of also struggling to figure out how to love and understand a son she doesn’t appreciate fully even thought she knows she loves him. She, in many ways, is also struggling with her own powerlessness, not just because she is a prisoner to her addiction, but because she is this mother and the pressures that come with that reality. There are a few moments in the movie when she barks at Chiron aka Little, “I am your mother” as a means of retaliation for his habit of seeking escape through Juan and his partner, Teresa — the auntie that everyone loves, who we all would run to for cover when we disagreed with our own mother or father.
Moonlight is also about Terrel, the school bully, struggling with his own issues of powerlessness, who acts out his fears through bullying and chooses someone (Chiron) whom he feels is weaker than he. What I have learned about bullies is that many times they crave the feeling of power and therefore torment others for the high.
And Moonlight is also about Kevin, the childhood friend of Chiron who is fully aware of who he is and who he loves (Chiron). Kevin is driven by self-preservation and therefore creates a caricature of himself to keep people from seeing who he is truly. So as to not become a victim of his circumstances, Kevin becomes everything everyone else expects of him but nothing near the true him.
And Chiron, the main character in it all who has more power and control than he realizes. Unfortunately, while Chiron gets close thanks to the influences of Juan and Teresa, he never truly harnesses his power. He is the common denominator in all of the dysfunction, but is impacted more by the external forces than internal.
I know Chiron
I have been him and lived him. And I know Paula, Terrel, Kevin, Juan and even Teresa. We all do. We all have come into contact with each of these characters in one way or another. Whether as children, at work, in church or school, on the job — we all have come into contact with these identities, their experiences, the situation of external influences and internal struggle.
We all have walked in the Moonlight.
Moonlight is a masterpiece that has at the center Chiron’s struggles with identity, but is about so much more than that. It is about being human, whether you are black, or male, or same gender loving; a crack addict, a drug dealer, a black boy forced to bully because he feels powerless.
The message is deeper than affirming the LGBT community — and yes, that is important so please do not assume that I am in anyway attempting to negate its importance and impact. But in seeing Chiron’s experiences and processes, we also must pay attention to the other forces surrounding Chiron and their origination.
Moonlight, as Janelle Monae said after the screening Tuesday night, is about all of us!