Moonlight: Discovery of Self Identity -Samantha Orellana

Moonlight, a film directed by Barry Jenkins, depicts the life of a black man in America in the 1980’s through the lens three main characters, Kevin, Chiron and Terrel. This unique film utilizes a layout that follows these characters through their adolescence to their adult lives in order to show the evolving struggles a man, more specifically a black man, face in society. The film uses poverty, drug addiction, and abuse to show just the beginning of the struggles faced by these men in their adolescence. Although abuse and poverty are universal, this movie touched on a much more curious idea- a gay black man in America.

There was a panel at the film which consisted of 3 participants, Professor Pierson, Professor Tallie and Professor Miller. The inclusion of a panel after the film allowed for a decompression of the moving film. The panelists noted that both Kevin and Terrel “wrestled” with the their sexuality, fighting to “correct” it. Sexuality is something that cannot be corrected- it just is. Along with sexuality, race also cannot be “corrected”, because there is no “correct” race to identify with- you just are. Based on this panel discussion, I concluded that the main theme surrounding this film is identity.

The idea of being a black man in America is a harsh one. The many stereotypes faced by these men can be seen specifically through Chiron’s improverish adolescent life. As a child, his well-being is ignored by his drug abusive mother and absent father. When he does find guidance in two characters, Juan and Teresa, he is only to discover Juan sells drugs. This depicts just the beginning of issues faced within himself. Chiron is a homosexual black man living in America, something i can’t even imagine having the  bravery to face in American society.

A black man in America faces discrimination in modern society whether it is biased or unbiased. Whether an individual can recognize it or not, their actions and decisions towards other individuals will always depend to some degree on race. If a black male does not face enough stereotypical judgements throughout his lifetime, being a gay black male can only add. Both of these groups – African Americans and homosexuals- are a minority. What is the difference between a white, wealthy homosexual male and a black, lower-class homosexual male? Rewinding back to slavery, men worked on fields especially during the “Plantation Era”, while women did more household work. While a black man had little authority within this time period, he had a responsibility and an expectation to behave as a “man”, making his manhood one of the most important aspects to his identity. Another huge reason for this is the lack of human empathy for African Americans, leaving slaves little to identify themselves with. For example, It was common for slaves to have multiple names and little to no rights, leaving their manhood and womanhood one of their main self indentities. Rewinding further, men were given certain rights (voting, right to own property) that women were neglected of. This goes to show the idea of masculinity that society has for men, and more specifically, a black man.

I think it is very interesting how Jenkins intertwined two minorities to project a struggle that is almost scary to imagine to face. It brings to light the idea that the black man is very concerned with masculinity. As depicted as one of the many stereotypes within this film, a young black male is many times the “man”of the household, establishing their male dominance early on. And, if it wasn’t already hard enough receiving equal treatment for an African American, being a homosexual can only add to this fight for equal treatment. Homosexuality is often coupled with “female”, “girly”, “feminine”, why? Why has society allowed us to believe that one aspect of ourselves can define whether we behave within our gender roles? Why has society created gender roles for us?

Moonlight is an extremely unique and moving film which allows for deep critical thinking subsequent to watching. I appreciated the panel attending this film and opening their minds and ideas to ensue discussion and a better understanding of the film. I am extremely moved by this film and would recommend showing film in this course.

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