Moonlight spans three time periods: young adolescent, mid-teens and young adult. These are rites of passage events that we all experience. As a kid, Chiron AKA Little (Alex Hibbert) lives with his single drugged up mother Paula (Naomi Harris) in a crime-infested neighbourhood, The Projects, in Miami. He’s a shy kid, mainly due to his slight size and being left to his own devices by his mother, a person who cares more about getting her fixes than her parental duties. Due to this, he’s bullied by the neighbourhood’s children.
As well as his same-aged friend Kevin (Jaden Piner), he is given a bit of hope from the local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Regardless of his chosen line of work, he means well. He can see that Chiron has been left to raise himself, and Juan welcomes Chiron into his home. It becomes a utopia, away from bullies and his mother’s abuse. Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) helps Chiron, even into his mid-teens. Living in The Projects around drugs and abuse, Chiron may have one destined path in his life, as depicted in his teen years when social peer pressure dictates what he and his peer group do, unless he chooses to follow Juan’s advice by making decisions.
It’s no secret that in society today, the stereotype for black parents is black men aren’t always there to provide for their children. This is why I loved Juan so much. His job was by no means a reflection on his moral character. He took Chiron in like he was his own son. Sure, Chiron’s real father was not there and his mother did not give two hoots about him. But Juan, a black man stepped up, thus contradicting the pejorative archetype of the 21st century’s black male. I applaud Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for writing a character that show black men in positive way.
Being poor, black and/or gay puts people at a disadvantage in this society when it shouldn’t. In today’s world, the normalisation of homosexuality is a new thing and even still, there are many out there who still take issue with it. There was once a time when being black was a crime thus we had Slavery, Segregated America and The Apartheid Regime in South Africa. When you peel away at the themes discussed in the film, including hope, fear and love, Moonlight is a depiction of what it means to be a member of minority. Gay people of all colours exist, and that is not an ideology that one can learn from whitewashed western news corporations that ruled the roost up until the mid-noughties.
Moonlight bathes in the messiness of being different in a world in which the establishment would rather have everyone be the same. Bullying, loneliness and tension: it declines to skip over the effect race and ethnicity has on gay black kids. Much of the themes explored in the film are specific to the United States, yet issues like hypermasculinity, poverty and child abuse are felt all over the world, which isn’t exclusive to the black experience. The impact of being a minority within marginalised factions is in every shot, giving us an idea of what it means to grow up “without”, in the modern-day.
Little sits in a rotten bath he’s had to fill by hand. This captures how Moonlight represents the black experience of growing up poor. When you can’t be true to yourself around your own family, you know there’s a problem. Due to this, it’s often in solitude that black children can find peace. Watching our lead character Chiron distance himself from everyone he knows and holding up a mirror in front of himself further shows us that we all must accept each of us the way we are. Black or white; gay or straight; it doesn’t matter. For the millennial generation watching this, it may simply say that we’re here together. It’s rather quite profound.
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is certainly worthy of the three Academy awards it won last Sunday. This is an important movie that criticises the roles society has set us. With excellent performances and a well-thought out narrative, Moonlight is a keeper.