“So intimate is moonlight reflected on still water that this spare, deeply moving film appropriately bears the name. Moonlight won a Golden Globe for Best Picture, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and was the second lowest-grossing film in history to win an Oscar for Best Picture, its all-black, mostly unknown cast beating out favored La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
So why is this particular coming-of-age story so worth seeing? In a word: hope. Told in three parts, the film portrays black lives that are at once complex, flawed, loving, and healthy [finally!]. Moonlight
follows from boy to man the life of black and gay Chiron. Front-and-center in the film are hyper masculinity, economic depression, and drugs, yet these situational factors are not depicted as the inherent dysfunction of blackness. Unexpectedly, we admire and care about the 40-something drug dealer whose performative masculinity slips easily from his shoulders to tenderly parent semi-orphaned Chiron. We are both crushed and empathetic when Kevin, Chiron’s childhood playmate, as a teenager and to avoid his own beating by schoolyard bullies repeatedly knocks down and draws blood from his shy unsinkable friend, Chiron. And we feel Chiron’s interiority, the ebb and flow of his self-possession, his tenuous yet durable embrace of himself. As Chiron sorts through his gay black worth, stretching toward fulfillment despite domestic abuse and betrayal, we the viewers also internalize the power of honest connection and self-acceptance. For Moonlight, both black aggression (pariah) and self-erasure (hapless victim) indeed are myths. Chiron returns again and again to his gayness, blackness, and vulnerabilities, choosing to love rather than deny himself. As we watch, the desire to engage the best of our own lives and communities is overwhelming. Moonlight is a must see. ”
Associate Professor, Department of History
and Director, Africana Studies Institute