Black History Month occurs every February to honor, recognize and remember both the triumphs and the tragic events of black history within the United States. African Americans have a complex past with the nation; the month is dedicated to portraying the history of blacks in America while reflecting on the struggle as they found ways to survive their circumstances in society all while continuing to grow stronger within their own culture. Shining a spotlight onto their history maintains the continuous importance of Black History Month in America.
I attended the showing of Moonlight and the panel on February 28th. Moonlight brings to life the chronicles of childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of Chiron a young, African-American, gay man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. The film goes down in history for its portrayal of black life today in America. Moonlight has virtually no Caucasian faces, which is a miracle in an era still dominated by white, male action leads. The response to the film brought acclaim reaching as high as an Academy Award for Best Picture. The director of the film Barry Jenkins explores the unmarked territory of black criminals and ghetto cliches that permeate with compassion, the weak become mighty, and sex is addressed with reservation and respect. Every individual, no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender each holds their own identity and for Chiron, his is being a black male who is gay, because of the black identity he holds he is immersed in American American history by not only being black but for being a black gay male.
Understanding and discovering who you are and what identities you hold is a central theme in Moonlight but also within American American history. When Africans were enslaved, their freedom was taken away from them, as well as their identity in a new foreign place. When enslaved Africans reached America, they were greeted with horrific conditions. They were told what to do, how to act, and weren’t treated as individuals, just another slave. This stripped away their identities as individuals. However, as a community, African Americans fought for freedom, but once free they faced the same issue of discovering who they were in society but on a much larger scale. Now, blacks in America could act as the individuals they were, but they were still limited to what jobs they could have. Prejudice and racism faced them every day as they tried to provide for themselves and their families. Part of discovering and understanding who they were as individuals in society included them coming to terms with their identities as African Americans and all that came along with said identity.
Chiron struggles throughout the three stages of his life with discovering, coming to terms, and understanding what his identities mean to him and how they shape him as a person.Juan, a supporting character to young Chiron states in the movie, ”At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be – can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” Later in the film as an adult Kevin, who helps Chiron in
discovering his sexuality, states “who is You, Chiron?”. Much of Chiron’s life he was told how his identities shapes him. He was told that he was gay from his mom and peers with derogatory slurs hidden in homophonic regards, making little Chiron view one of his identity as a negative within society. Chiron is also holding the identity of a black male, being told that dealing drugs is something you do when you black. Furthermore, when we see Chiron as an adult, he is a drug dealer and when asked by Kevin why Chiron doesn’t have an answer just that it is the natural path for a black male and is something society stereotypes when a black male has had a criminal record passed.
Chiron’s story can be paralleled to that of Cujo Lewis, of whom I’ve learned about in our course reading Barracoon. After the abolition of slavery, Lewis and other Clotilda captives tried to raise money to return to their homeland, holding onto their identities as Africans. The men worked in lumber mills, and the women sold produce, but with the wages blacks received they couldn’t afford to go home. After realizing that they would not return to Africa, the members of the community continued to raise money and began to purchase land; holding onto and discovering their new identities as Blacks in America.
African-Americans have come far in their fight for justice and equality in the nation, but there is still many prejudices and stereotypes placed in their way. The LGBTQ community also holds a history within America with negative connotations. Moonlight illuminates these prejudices and stereotypes of both groups as Chiron holds both identities. It’s okay to question the identities we carry, and when Moonlight ended as an audience, we can tell that Chiron still has a lot to discover about himself. But, By understanding the identities we hold, and the predetermined connotations we are exposed to, we can better understand how identities are molded throughout life, shaping who you are as a person in this world.
- Moonlight, Directed by Barry Jenkins. (2016; Miami, Fl:, DVD)
- Moonlight, Barry Jenkins