Moonlight was an amazing film that almost felt like a documentary. It highlighted the toxicity and cyclical nature of masculinity within black communities (specifically those communities of lower socio-economic status). And knowing this before-hand made me want to check out this piece of work. But when you add on the fact that the main character was obviously a queer one, this created a whole new (and stronger) appeal for me. So I had to watch.
Chiron is his name but he’d be soon known by a few others. Black is one of them (probably to highlight the fact that his very dark skin set him apart even amongst his own people). He’d also be known as Little
The movie was split up into three parts based on his names.
Chiron is a young boy here. The other kids are already seeing him as soft, and different. He’s a puny dark-skinned boy with a mother who’s on drugs. Boys harass him as he runs and hides but he unexpectedly makes a new friend who saves him. Juan is a much older man who takes him under his wing. His personality is shaped by the grit of the street so he mentors Chiron and shows him how to survive in their hard world.
But then come the questions. “What is a faggot?” “Am I a faggot?” “Are you the one selling my mother drugs?” Tough questions that Juan knew he had to answer. The first question I asked my own mother when I was young as well. It’s discouraging to know that this torment against the LGBT community (or even against just people who are seen as different) starts as early as some of us can remember.
Chiron is a teenager now and could not afford some of the luxuries that I had in high school. I was out as gay with no daily fear that someone would smash my head in or shoot me. Chiron wasn’t out but was still subject to this fear. He was constantly bullied by people who saw him as feminine. He had his first sexual experience with a man (Kevin) who later beat him in school in order to solidify his masculinity in the eyes of the other guys (who were the main bullies).
Chiron came back the next day and beat up the main bully but was taken away from the campus in handcuffs. And so starts his decline into the criminal system and trapping in the streets. So often people like to point out shootings and other crime but don’t take a moment to sit down and understand why it is happening. They don’t try to attack the system that keeps everything going. They just single out instances.
It was fitting that this section was named Black because it represents the hardships, and dilemmas that many black men face today (LGBT or not). Do I resist the pressures of masculinity and continue to be ridiculed and abused? Or do I become who they want me to be? Chiron did the latter.
The first shot we see of him as a grown man was him sporting some gold grills and a chain. He had taken up Juan’s look. This was symbolic of how masculinity was cyclical. You either get in line or you get taken advantage of. Chiron was trapping just like Juan was. A scene even showed him mentoring someone else and getting them to understand the rules of masculinity and the street just like Juan did for him.
The cycle of masculinity and crime caused by poverty was complete. To Chiron this was survival and this cycle could not be broken. Or could it?
This is when Kevin calls Chiron. After all those years, the only thing that could break into Chiron’s tough masculine mirage was the first person he ever touched. They met up and talked. Kevin, surprised at what Chiron became, told him that he chose a different path. Kevin was a cook, but Chiron was still trapping.
I think this has to do with the fact that Kevin was not traumatized as badly as Chiron was in the past. Chiron was constantly seen as less than human, and someone to pick on. Kevin could pass as someone who was masculine enough, so he had almost no problem fitting in as long as he lied. Kevin chose to fit in during his youth and grew tired of living that life. While Chiron, after all the years of trauma, decided to “man-up” and fit in when he became older to avoid any further pain.
The movie ends with them in an intimate embrace. Chiron’s eyes flows with tears after a decade of not letting any go. This scene represents the lives that many men live behind close doors because black masculinity prevents them from living out loud. It also can represent a choice that Chiron can make. Does he stick with the performance of masculinity that kept him safe from a lot of exclusion or does he let this wall/costume that he built fall down to live the life he’s always wanted to. The latter would take pain, work, tears, a lot of courage, and a lot of time. Social rules and systems are not destroyed in a day and going against them is not easy. But in my opinion, it would be worth it for him.
This was one of the most honest looks at masculinity and LGBT life in the black community and I would love to see more stories like it.