I am a film lover. I see film as an escape to a place where I can immerse myself in another world without question; a place where my empathy doesn’t feel wasted and my overactive mind doesn’t seem extra. I can be my whole self while immersed in the narrative of a moving picture and afterwards, I can sit with my thoughts, overthinking things as much as I like, with good reason for once.
I feel that the screenplay is the backbone of a film. If poorly written, the story is lost. Silence is accounted for. Direction is fleshed from the base of the word. Cinematography is enhanced by the intention of the story. This is why Moonlight struck a chord with me. It was a story written with sensitivity, the type this narrative never gets, and it was the most honest commentary on humanity.
Moonlight, the 2016 coming-of-age drama and Academy Award Best Picture winner by Barry Jenkins, exposed a part of society that is not spoken of. The themes of black masculinity, expectation, and sexual orientation illustrated by the loudness of silence, created a psychologically evocative masterpiece. Moonlight brought to life the reality of how failed institutions destroy people of colour without a choice.
“In moonlight, black boys look blue,” were the words Juan uttered to young Little. This forms the pivotal theme throughout the film. There have been many interpretations of this line but to me, it meant this – under the moonlight, black men are viewed differently. Unable to sleep after watching this film a few weeks ago, I began writing this post to put my weakened heart at ease, plagued by thoughts about the way society reacts to the man of colour.
The film follows Chiron, a sensitive boy growing up in a difficult neighbourhood in Miami in his quest of becoming and understanding himself. Violence, drugs, tribulation, and pain are every day occurrences. Being a young boy discovering his sexuality, surviving with just his mother, a drug-user, and no knowledge of his father, Chiron clings to Juan, a dealer intrinsically linked to his mother. He and his girlfriend, Theresa, take Chiron under their wing and provide a contrasting safe space for him to escape to when necessary.
The film is narrated in three distinct sections – Little; Chiron; and Black – each scene climaxing fittingly on the beach under the moonlight. We see the evolution of man. From the innocent, young boy Little is, asking Juan and Theresa, “Am I a faggot? Because that’s what they call me,” to an insecure, teenage Chiron feeling the confusion of love for the first time, a tenderness he has never had the privilege of experiencing, to the decisions that unfold leading Black down a path far too familiar for the watcher to accept. You find yourself exasperatedly saying, “But this isn’t what Chiron was supposed to be“.
This is not what any person is supposed to be, but this is the reality.
As a woman of colour, I will never experience any experiences but my own (this has its own set of hardships), but knowing my space in this world, the truth is that the reality of blackness and sexuality in the setting that Moonlight portrayed was outside of my understanding base. But that is why it’s important this film was created. I am never going to experience what it feels like for a homosexual black man growing up in the hood, but I can observe, reflect, and respect the difficulty that our privileged society has created. It is not my story to dissect, explain, or narrate, but I do know this: Moonlight gave me insight.
It seems to me that men of colour have a set of unexplained expectations set like a brick in a wall. There is an expectation to be stronger, more accomplished, and more intense. And if one fails at this, even marginally, there is a sense of self- and societal ridicule that doesn’t seem logical to the rest of the world, but it’s the way men of colour were wired. The concept of enforced masculinity is a reality, even in 2018.
If I think back to the past, it’s because men of colour were supposed to infiltrate a world where they were a minority and they were never enough in that society. I was watching an episode of Blackish the other night, and there was an explanation about why women made up a plate of food for their husbands – it was to show them they were loved in a world that did not love them. This made sense to me.
The expectation of men of colour to hold it together is a burden that feels trapping. This can go for people of colour in general, but for the purposes of my point – take it for what it is. It seems they are just expected to exist and play the cards that they were dealt; to accept the racial profiling, expectations, and grip that the world seems to have dictated; or work harder than most, pushing unnatural boundaries, just to be heard.
After Chiron and Kevin, his closest childhood friend, have a tender moment on the beach, Kevin is forced into proving his loyalty to a group of unruly, high school hooligans by beating Chiron up in the school parking lot. A choice of expected masculinity. This moment defined Chiron’s adulthood there on out. It was in that moment that he was no longer Little or Chiron, he became Black. The decisions Chiron was forced to make, the life he was forced to endure, and the lack of options available to him led him down a path that was not necessarily the one he had to be on. But again, his cards were dealt and he had to play the hell out of them the only way he knew how.
The fact that his choices were so limited, being a man of colour, being a black man, killed my soul a little and I was apologetic for it.
Many people would be thinking at this juncture, “Why do you need to be apologetic? You’re a liberal. You’re a feminist. You didn’t do anything wrong?” Well, it’s simple. It’s because the world we live in has made the space we live in unsafe. I feel a responsibility towards contributing towards a safe space for marginalised identities. And while I cannot tell this story, I can support and encourage the story being told and I can apologise for the place my class played in contributing towards it.
I’m grateful for this film. The empathy and compassion it has taught me has unlocked a piece of my mind that I did not know even needed unlocking. This is the crux of privilege. Sincere ignorance. It made me think of the expectations set on people and the plight every single human has to go through to survive just a single day. And that in that, we have no responsibility but to the concept of humanity.