Thursday, February 09, 2017

Moonlight (2016)

This is definitely not the stereotypical black movie.

In trying to recall the few movies with generally African American characters that I have seen these are what I came up with: Cage (ok ok, not a movie); The Nutty Professor; 42; He Got Game. Given that, the stereotypical black then would be a sportsman or gangbanger. 

Moonlight doesn’t fit in any of those because the protagonist does not know who he is which, for some reason, skewed into gender identity. 

Gender and homosexuality came out of nowhere.  Chiron is a quiet child, small for his age, often picked on.  Bullies call him Little. Does being small mean gay?  Certainly being introverted and living in one’s own head, which is what acts like, is not gay. 

Yet in the first act of the movie Chiron asked if he a faggot? How would he know – from being teased most likely – and how would his bullies know?  His mother thinks it, having noticed that Chiron is effeminate. What feels lacking is that Chiron’s confusion, questions, tendencies was not acted it was stated.  All the while I thought of choosing what to be in general terms not gender.

And of all the persons Chiron would ask what faggot meant it was to Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer. Juan whose livelihood requires overt signs of masculinity, for better or worse, answered Chiron not to decide on gender as of now. He did not ridicule or bully the then young child into what is “correct”.  You can be gay but not a faggot, continued Juan’s advice.

But the lack of a good setup – the question, confusion was stated not acted – left me with the question was he bullied by the world into his gender just like everything else in his life?

Then I saw it. Because Juan was uncharacteristically open albeit inconclusive maybe the question is where would Chiron go? He sees the same stereotypes I see: the sportsman and the gangbanger. His mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is into drugs which Juan, ironically, tries to sway into changing her life.  His father abandoned him long ago. His schoolmates are all about masculinity, some more overt than others; perhaps en route to futures in gangs or in sports.  Is there a cultural nuance to this coming out story? Where would a gay black man go?

Moonlight’s movie poster had Chiron’s face partitioned into three signifying three points in the character’s life. Left to right, youngest to oldest.  When the story jumps to another age in Chiron’s life the experience can be jarring because there is a need to reacquaint with the characters.

The middle part, high school years, teen years, was when he first experienced kissing a boy and received a hand job. Questions of sexuality felt more organic as the teen years is normally an age of discovery and hitting bumps or walls during the journey. Looking at the first act, that one felt useless compared to this middle one.

For Chiron it was a wall it eventually drove him into dealing drugs by the last act, a sad full circle since knowing Juan from childhood.  Now he is a well chiseled man and in definite shape.  My favorite part here is when he removed the gold attachments to much of his teeth; he didn’t need it to eat, it was all show – menacing metal teeth.  Even though looking every bit as solid and fully formed a man, Chiron remained hidden behind a mask – as a child it was just silence, now it was with fake teeth.

But I don’t feel sorry for him because I don’t know who Chiron is maybe as much as he did not know himself. Dealing drugs is an end result but it was as if he was always meant to be. There was no sign he ever wanted a life out of where he lived near the drugs. What did he lose?  Should we say that had he been outwardly gay then he wouldn’t have ended selling drugs?  Certainly not.

In quiet little diner at night, Moonlight, ends with Chiron opening himself up more than he has ever done in the entire movie. Finally feels at ease.  Everything begins with understanding.

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