When Childish Gambino and his girl were chilling on the couch in “The Jacket” episode of Atlanta, I was reminded that I hadn’t finished writing my review of the movie Moonlight. It’s affirming to see Black touch and Black intimacy on the screen. Normalizes our humanness. So them on the couched all hugged up, reminded me of the last image of Chiron leaning into Kevin’s embrace in Moonlight.
About three weeks ago I went north to Landmark Century for a mental health break and to get lost in movie-land. I just needed to see Black people on the screen. I saw Moonlight and Queen of Katwe. Real talk, I had no expectations of either movie and really didn’t know what Moonlight was about.
I saw the movies back-to-back, and though I wrote the Queen of Katwe review first, Moonlight is actually the movie I saw first. Like I said, I did not know what to expect, but I was moved with how the movie was shot and the subtleties.
Hannah Beachler, the sista responsible for the visuals of Moonlight also worked on Beyonce’s Lemonade.
I love the stills and images, space of silence and thought, moments of Blackness and intimacy, and in the midst of pain, the rendering of Black male joy and having a safe space, to just be. Part of what I was getting away from on this movie day was male toxicity. It’s also interesting that I revisited this movie, and decided to write this review after spending the week at work facilitating group therapy sessions with high school girls, co-creating a safe space for them to explore their gender identity and sexuality as apart of self-awareness.
Moonlight Synopsis: “A young man deals with his dysfunctional home life and comes of age in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.”
Let me gone and get this statement out of the way, Trevante Rhodes, the adult character of “Chiron/Little/Black,” is a handsomely gorgeous brotha. He is melinated fineness!
Hol’up! Random, but not so random thought, Chiron puts me in the mindset of Sista Souljah’s exploration of Black manhood through the character, Midnight. Two totally different characters, but I would love for the two of them to be friends or at least have a conversation. The two characters are on the continuum of Black manhood and I’m glad that they both exist. Black boys/men have many narratives = shattering tropes!
Okay, on to the business at hand. As for the empathetic beautifully human story that delves into Black male sex, gender identity, gender expression, emotional and physical attraction, Moonlight was handled with care. Barry Jenkins penned and directed Moonlight, with care.
A young Chiron, aka Little, was raised by a mother (Naomie Harris) who misused substances. In her own plight, she saw her son’s plight of being gay and not being protected by the world. She was more than her addiction though, and the movie highlights gray areas of being marginalized and living day-to-day.
The very person, (Juan/Blue) who sold Chiron’s mother drugs, was the same person who cared for Chiron and took him under his wing—not as a “runner,” or “putting him onto game,” but Blue and his girlfriend Teresa, played by Janelle Monae, were a haven for Chiron.
We see Chiron as a school-aged boy, adolescent and as an adult. A life span. Chiron was not a boy of many words, often teased and bullied, but he always knew who he was.
As a boy, he asked Juan:
Chiron: What’s a faggot?
Juan: A word used to make gay people feel bad
Chiron: Am I a faggot? How do I know?
Juan: You just do. You’ll know when you kno.
The evolution of Chiron…Little…Black…Chiron…
The complexity of Juan. Drug dealer trope disrupted, because he wasn’t a heartless hypermasculine character, he had a warm and loving heart…
Moonlight. Black & Blue = purple. The beauty of being so dark that you’re blue-black. The power in all of that melanin. Melanin as Resistance! There were no coincidences in the movie. Not, the names, not the casting.
The intentionality and poignancy of Chiron and Juan both being dark-skinned brothas. The intentionality and poignancy of showing the tenderness of Black boys and men. All the scenes with Chiron and Juan, especially when Juan taught him to swim. A visual of baptismal. Juan told Chiron, “Let your head rest in my hand. I got you, I won’t let you go. I promise.” A sentiment that far exceeded the water. He never abandoned him.
The intentionality of place. Miami. Cuban born Juan. Afro-Latino. Black beyond the U.S.
His name resonated with me, Chiron. In Greek mythology, Chiron is a healer/oracle. On a macro level, the character provides some healing to how Black people have an up & down..round & round…here & there…spoken & silenced relationship with Black masculinity and Black gay men and Black men bi-sexuality. Also, the movie offers wholes and doesn’t reduce brothers to their sexuality and attraction. Beautifully done.
Single camera. Tones captured.
Moonlight offers us a window into Black boy play & rituals, coming of age and it challenges us to reconsider how Black boys are socialized and spoken/unspoken expectations of Black boys. It gives us insight into the repercussions for not “letting” people be themselves. It gives us insight into “I’m over it” and taking matters into ones own hand, which can result in youth being “shipped away” and placed in places like JTDC, Juvenile Temporary Detention Center or a Residential Treatment Center, and eventually ending up “trapping.”
The adult Chiron/Black and adult Kevin on how they performed Black masculinity. Chiron, in his attire, in his posture, in his presentation, in his grill/fronts, in his “whip,” in his mystery, in his tone, in his lean while driving his chosen car, in his silence, in his raised and lowered eyes.
Reconciliation: Adult Chiron with his mother.
Reconciliation: A phone call. A distance driven for adult Chiron to adult Kevin (André Holland) to reconnect, the only man Chiron ever touched.
Blackity Black moments:
- No hot water. Heat water on stove. Haul hot water to the bathroom. Pour steaming water into the tub and squeeze dish detergent into the conquered water to make bubbles.
- Can’t sit with your back at door. How will you know if someone’s creepin up on ya?
A stripped down and trap mix of Jidenna’s, “Classic Man.” Are queer Black men, classic?
Final image of the movie: Chiron exhaling, leaning into Kevin’s embrace of safety, familiarity…being seen.