Reading James Baldwin
Umbra of the Self
In the ground breaking 2016 film Moonlight, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Barry Jenkins, is an amazing coming of age film about a young person and their battle for acceptance and their sexual identity. This film is extremely well done in terms of visual story telling and the acting. However this film excels in its concept of taking a character and using three different actors in three different periods of this persons life to tell their story. Also there is a huge commentary on toxic male masculinity and how it feels to grow up as a gay black male in a predominately straight, homophobic, violent society.
I feel that this film does an amazing job technically with the cinematography and art direction. With those things set, the visual story telling does exactly what it is intended to do. There is not a whole lot of dialogue in this film and that makes it all the more important when there is a conversation. When these characters stop to speak, you listen. There is a huge weight to their words. The fact that the lead character doesn't speak more than a few paragraphs throughout the film is a testament to the amazing cast and Barry’s direction.
Starting with young Chiron, it is obvious to the viewer that he is the outcast and is bullied. When we are introduced to his mom, there is a sense of love and care, which fades away as the film continues. Juan’s character in this film is a complicated one. I feel that Chiron being taken under the care of Juan and his friends influences Chiron to be the gangster type he grows into. That with the mixture of abuse and witnessing his mother’s downward spiral into drug addiction. Juan tries to be a good influence and I would like to believe that he didn't have any ill intentions.
As the story progresses we notice a lot of pent up aggression from Chiron. I feel this is a combination of being trapped and unaccepted in ones environment. He is constantly being picked on and bullied and thats not just at school. He is pretty much punched out of his money by his mother, so that she can by drugs. There is a lot of pain and hate in the tears of Chiron.
A highlight for me was when Chiron was jumped. His childhood friend Kevin had to make the decision to fight him even though both didn't want to. This betrayal in trust was the straw that broke the camels back for Chiron. Seeing his explosive rage within the classroom shows that he no longer will sit on the sidelines. He is taking responsibility for his own happiness, even if its not in the most healthy of ways. However, this is cause and effect in the simplest form. He is a product of his environment regardless of his sexual orientation.
I feel that this film speaks volumes in terms of self discovery. There have been plenty of films that speak on homosexuality and acceptance. When you watch a movie like Mysterious Skin by Gregg Araki, you get a sense of the characters and their hardships, however it is from the perspective of someone who is white. There is a completely different dynamic when it comes to being black and gay.
The culture of the “gangster” says that anything that is soft of different isn't strong. I feel that Moonlight speaks to that. Toxic male masculinity and the effects it has on children coming of age. As a gay person growing up in the hood, Chiron felt the need to hide himself. He is extremely confused and it shows with every awkward interaction he has with Kevin. This false need to be macho is a social construct that is a poison to the development and furthering of us socially.
Chiron’s character is a character I feel needed to be portrayed on screen to let people realize that these experiences are not universal, figuring out ones sexual orientation. There are many different ways in which people grow and discover themselves. That isn't the argument. the argument is that in cinema there are two stereotypes; The flamboyant gay white guy and the black thug. Moonlight breaks that and truly shows the diversity of the human condition. Chiron is where we need to go in terms of progress in Hollywood cinema. Moonlight is the type of film that only could have been made in this time. Any earlier it would have had a huge amount of push back and I feel that any later would be redundant. This movie is a amazingly well crafted piece that speaks to social issues in the United States. It tells you to be yourself but warns how tough a path each of us must walk in order to receive self enlightenment and acceptance.