‘What’s a faggot?’, asks the quiet and shy Chiron, nicknamed Little, who is still ignorant of expectations of society.
‘A faggot is a word used to make gay people feel bad’, says Juan.
‘Am I a faggot?’ Little asks.
‘You might be gay but don’t let anyone ever call you a faggot’, answers Juan, finding himself with tears in his eyes.
A remarkable scene, which introduces you to a unique movie. Juan, a popular, successful drug dealer in an African-American neighbourhood in Miami takes off his mask in front a young boy who is bullied by boys from the neighbourhood. It is the first time Little becomes self-aware and sees the mismatch between his inner self and society’s expectations in terms of sexuality.
Society functions around norms – which make clear what is ‘normal’ and what is what is not – and expects everyone in that society to behave accordingly. In every society and explicitly in the troubled African-American community Little lives in, heterosexuality is perceived as the norm. Homosexual boy Little, then, is perceived and treated as the ‘abnormal’.
Director Barry Jenkins successfully showed the growing process of life by separating the movie into three chapters: I. Little, II. Chiron, and III. Black. All names represent the African-American homosexual boy – and in the last chapter man – who stumbles through life, trying to hide his inner self from the outer world by wearing all kinds of different masks.
You can feel the ignorance and pureness of Little, the hope and hopelessness of Chiron, the crushed soul of Black, and the pressures of society on all these characters.
Little, still confused by the boys who bully him, transforms into the shy teenager Chiron, who deals with his mother’s drug addiction and expectations of being masculine – which means, in this context, tough-skinned, competitive, non-emotional, aggressive and independent. Only Chiron’s one friend Kev is allowed to see who he really is, leading to an unexpected connection between the two. When their relationship brutally comes to an end, Chiron has learned again that society has no mercy and enters a new stage of life, wearing the mask of the hardened drug dealer Black and trying to ignore the past and his true sexual identity.
Though the troubled boy is represented by three actors, Alex Hibbert (Little), Ashton Sanders (Chiron), and Trevante Rhodes (Black), all of them succeed in showing the struggle he faces through the years, making the audience feel his pain in every stage of life. You can feel the ignorance and pureness of Little, the hope and hopelessness of Chiron, the crushed soul of Black, and the pressures of society on all these characters.
Jenkins’ decision to put the cameras between the actors instead of outside makes you feel as if you are there experiencing every move Chiron makes. The movie tries to change your perspective on social issues regarding sexuality: it makes you realize you are not an outsider of these issues, you are part of them. It blurs the distinction of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, or, more specifically, hetereosexuals versus homosexuals. The camera work is ordered in such a way – with close-ups, slow-motion, etc. – that you can see elements of Chiron’s identity that others cannot see, creating a personal atmosphere between you and the boy. It gives the viewer a sense of responsibility, as in urging the viewer to take a stance against bullying, intolerence and discrimination.
The moonlight, the water, the breeze; all of these elements of the narration connect the inner life with mother nature, depicting an escape from social pressures that cause pain, just to feel one’s pure self.
This is a story that differs from all other stories about African-Americans in a poor neighbourhood: no hip-hop music, no gun fights. Instead, it displays an escape from this chaotic life by searching for one’s pure self, reflected in the use of classical music as the soundtrack. This quest is not only explicitly visible in the story, but also wonderfully captured in symbolism that makes the movie complete. The moonlight, the water, the breeze; all of these elements of the narration connect the inner life with mother nature, depicting an escape from social pressures that cause pain, just to feel one’s pure self.
Moonlight depicts the mismatch between one’s inner and outer self, and the suppression of one’s own sexual identity in order to match society’s norms and expectations. It shows us intolerance towards homosexual people is still among us everyday and how many homosexuals have to live their lives as the ‘abnormals’ in society. It portrays one of the problems of contemporary society, homophobia, on which we all should react: a message beautifully and succesfully captured by Barry Jenkins in about two hours.