“Moonlight”: Black History Month

Benjamin Gelman

Black History Month Blog

12 March 2019

The life of a gay African American man living in Miami, Florida in the 80s, was terrible. The film Moonlight follows the life of a boy, Chiron, at three different stages of his life. It captures the struggles he faced as a young boy, a teenager, and an adult. In each stage of his life, his character changes, but the innocent little boy remains. As he grows in confidence, he makes himself out to be everything he isn’t, as protection. His hometown saves as the root of his problems, as he is unable to be himself due to the societal norms and the hardships that blacks still faced during this time period, especially when one is gay. In one aspect, the story can be compared to Black history: Chiron had to find his own his own freedom, much like the African American slaves, through his battles with himself, an angry childhood, a troubled adolescence, all the way to his self-realization. 

The movie gives insight into the continued hardships that blacks faced, specifically in regard to the homophobia of 80s. Whats more, the struggle of black identity, which has been a continued problem since the early times when the African Americans were slaves. Chiron faces constant struggle from his peers and worse, the first man he loves, who is forced to beat Chiron just to prove himself. Both boys participated in acts to hide who they really were, how they really felt about themselves, and about the people around them. They were forced to be someone other than them, or else, face constant ridicule and hate, quite possibly until it pushed them to do something that ended both their lives. They didn’t have an identity, they didn’t own their life. This is very similar to African American history in general; for centuries, blacks didn’t have their say, they didn’t have an identity. Fast forward to this time period it is still a problem, no matter the size. 

Whats more interesting in the film, that differs from much of black history, is the inclusion of an African American mentor, Juan. It sort of sets the story apart from anything else. Given the society they lived in, the ghetto, strangers were of particular worry for young kids, especially boys. This man, Juan, was unlike anyone else that Chiron had met. I believe he played one of the biggest roles in Chiron’s life. Without Juan and Teresa (Juan’s girlfriend), Chiron’s life would’ve been completely different. They served as a second home for Chiron, a set of parents he never had. Since his mom smoked dope and had random men around all the time, he never felt at home with is mother, pushing him deeper into silence and depression. He had nowhere to share his secret or feel safe, until he met these people. I enjoyed, specifically, one of Juans quotes, “at some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you,” (Moonlight. Directed by Barry Jenkins). Juan told Chiron this when he was just a boy; fast forward to adulthood, he did just this. After getting beat by the boy he loved, Kevin, he broke. Chiron left Miami and started his life over. He made himself whatever he wanted to be, a whole new person. This was all thanks to Juan, the biggest impact in Chiron’s life; nothing would’ve been the same without Juan. 

What makes the film so important, creates such a presence for the audience, is the relation to the history of African Americans. It reminds me of Cudjo Lewis and his own struggle with identity. Cudjo was stripped of his manhood, stripped of his freedom, and most importantly, stripped of his voice. It wasn’t until he was interviewed about his life, shown that someone actually cared about who he was that he felt happy, felt respected. This reflects the end of the film. Kevin, Chiron’s first love apologized for all he had ever said and did to Chiron. Kevin showed Chiron he cared, that he was loved, and that he wasn’t mistaken or should be ashamed of anything that he felt throughout his life. It wasn’t until this moment, in the comfort of Kevin’s home, that Chiron was truly accepted, truly happy. 

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