A slew of films and television shows created during the past few years tell stories of Black lives. Shows such as “Atlanta,” “Queen Sugar,” and “Luke Cage” center on Black characters, and are presented without a cap on creativity, nuance and character development. The success of these productions shows that we are ready to accept the various and vast lives that Black people live and have been on our TV and movie screens. Scary, right?
I’ve long waited for the day to watch a film or show that focuses on the large and apparent Black LGBTQ community. Sometimes we’re thrown a bone, maybe in a Tyler Perry film, but even then, the character is often typecast as the loud, flamboyant and promiscuous gay man who comes up with snappy jokes, or hits on the male protagonist for comedic value. Traits that are frowned upon and are somehow exclusive to LGBTQ folks. (But on a side note: Shout out to all the Black queer femmes who embrace who they are, and don’t cater to what folks think they should be as a queer individual.)
“Moonlight” is a film that delves deep into sexuality, masculinity and manhood through the Black perspective. The film chronicles the life of Chiron in three parts: as an adolescent, teenager and adult. He weaves through the streets of Miami with his dysfunctional mother during the War-on-Drugs era, struggling to find himself while coming to grips with his sexuality. I read rumblings about the film online. I saw a few gifs, read just enough about it so I didn’t spoil anything for myself (life tip for you all), and I knew that this was a film I had to see. I mention the Black LGBTQ perspective as opposed to just saying “LGBTQ perspective,” because I’d be lying to you if I said the Black LGBTQ experience is synonymous with the general experience. This piece is about the movie, but if you’re still confused or wound up, well, that’s unfortunate. When I was 14 or 15, my dad said something to me that’s stuck with me since, and it was “you already have two strikes against you — you’re Black, and a young man.” Now, at the time, I was coming to grips with my own sexuality. You add that to me and other folks’ equation? Hell, I struck out a while ago.
I hadn’t even watched the trailer for “Moonlight,” but I knew it wouldn’t disappoint. A line greeted me outside the Egyptian, which I guess isn’t too surprising on a Sunday. A room full of White folks, young and old, sat ready to consume this film so they can “understand” the experience while giving themselves pats on the back for supporting Black artists, asking each other what they “thought” about the movie while sitting in their new condo in the CD that probably pushed out Black families who couldn’t afford to live there anymore. Director Barry Jenkins must’ve been aware of what the average person to see his film would look like — the film opens with the Boris Gardiner tune that reminds us first and foremost that “every nigga is a star.” The tension was so thick and tender like a rib. So delicious.
The film did a wonderful job of intimately highlighting the stages, for lack of better word, that a lot of LGBTQ folk go through when discovering their sexuality: confusion, curiosity and then closure.
One of the early scenes begins with Chiron being chased, by some of his young peers from school — something Chiron experienced every day. Word around the neighborhood was that he was “soft,” a term shrouded in negativity, Chiron and many other kids who are forced to decide their sexuality, usually based on ideas and projections of others, which is unfair and confusing. He and other children struggling with this are left to believe that because they’re gay, or “a faggot,” as he’s often called in the film as a young child, the opportunity to accept themselves becomes a constant battle of carefully curating yourself in the eyes of others because there’s too much self-hate and confusion to even want to reflect – and a lot don’t know how to.
After the chase, Chiron finds an abandoned house to hide in until the boys leave. We’re left to believe that this is his home, until a cardboard wall is smashed down, introducing us to the character of Juan, a well-known drug dealer who eventually serves as a father figure to Chiron. Taking him into his own home, much to the chagrin of Chiron’s mother, Paula, one of Juan’s avid customers. Juan is a symbol, really, for a lot of young men who don’t have a father figure, even though he is looked at as the antithesis of what you would want your child to grow up as. The film captures Juan’s inner-struggles of selling drugs to his community, because the damages of the drug reflect the tumultuous relationship between Chiron and Paula. Chiron looks up to Juan, and later on in the film it’s evident that Chiron used Juan as a base on which to compose his own manhood. A scene that reflects the “unsoftening” and genesis of Chiron’s manhood and new identity of “Black” came to surface when, after getting jumped by a group of students, including Kevin (the only person who seemed to talk to Chiron during his time in school, and, you guessed it, Chiron’s crush), he took matters into his own hands, creating a new identity for himself.
We’re introduced to chapter three with Chiron, now known as “Black.” Physically bigger and imposing, Chiron’s identity as a drug dealer living in Atlanta is perhaps just another mirage or escape from who he is. He receives a call from Kevin, whom he hasn’t spoken to since the jumping incident. Chiron makes a trip back to Miami to see him. In an intimate gathering between the two, Kevin is vexed at Chiron’s new appearance — calling him out on it, as well as his muscle car and his “fronts” (gold teeth). It’s all very subjective, considering, well, all of this.
The film ends, not with an ending, but with a beginning. It uncovers the confusion and the curiosity that existed within them as children, but their environment would not allow such reflection or questions to occur, offering no closure. Finding you.