Dr. Channon Miller
African American History
Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, features a black man named Chiron throughout three stages of his life: childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. From early childhood, Chiron faces many challenges. He deals with bullying and harassment from other kids who call him homophobic slurs and beat him up, he struggles with finding his identity, and has an unhealthy relationship with his drug-addicted mother. I found Moonlight to be a very moving and thought-provoking film, because it touched on many topics that I didn’t know much about and encouraged me to think about them in a new way. Moonlight relates to African American history through its demonstration of the after-effects of redlining, and also discusses important themes, such as masculinity and identity.
In the opening scenes of the movie, the audience instantly is able to draw some conclusions about the neighborhood that Chiron is living in. We see drug deals taking place and somewhat-run-down homes and buildings surrounding them, and are able to assume he lives in a lower-income neighborhood. As the film continues and we see Chiron’s school and neighborhood more, we also come to notice that the neighborhood’s population is predominantly African American. Many neighborhoods that are similar to Chiron’s in demographics are struggling today due to the effects of “redlining” many years ago. Redlining is a discriminatory practice that began in 1934 and was created by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Redlining often interfered with African American homeownership, and banks often wouldn’t give loans to people that lived in “redlined” areas. This resulted in the economic decline of these neighborhoods. We still see the effects of redlining in our society today, because there are still many predominantly African American neighborhoods that are stuck in the cycle of poverty that the FHA put them in. These neighborhoods often face drug problems and violence similar to Chiron’s neighborhood. Redlining is an unfortunate part of African American history, and its effects are demonstrated throughout our society today and the film.
A clear theme throughout Moonlight was the theme of identity. Chiron, even from early in his life when he still went by “Little”, was bullied and called homophobic slurs. This bullying results in Chiron questioning his sexual identity and feeling very lost. As he grows older, enters high school, and begins to discover himself a little more, Chiron still struggles with figuring out who he is becoming. While he explores his sexuality more, he also continues to find himself lost and often goes to Juan and Teresa’s house and the ocean to find clarity in his thoughts. He also goes through a transformation from being a very passive and non-confrontational person, to having a violent outburst in class which results in the police being called. From this moment going forward, Chiron’s identity shifts from being a nervous and passive teenager to a tougher and harder adult. The identity that Chiron seems to grow into towards the end of the film is very similar to that of Juan’s, his former mentor and somewhat father-figure in his life. I found it really interesting how Chiron’s identity appeared to be shaped more by Juan and Teresa than by his own mother.
Another clear theme of Moonlight is masculinity. Masculinity is defined differently by many different people throughout the film, and Chiron’s “lack” of masculinity is frequently brought up by his peers. At a young age, Chiron is given a hard time for being “soft” and for not fighting back to his bullies. However, even being as young as he is, Chiron takes care of himself completely and is frequently left alone, while also dealing with his drug-addicted mother. This type of work is exhausting and challenging, but is given no credit by society as being hard work. People also question Chiron’s masculinity because they question his sexuality, when in reality, the people that are harassing Chiron are most likely mistreating him to prove their own masculinity. The impacts of toxic masculinity are shown throughout Moonlight through people’s treatment of Chiron and also how he treats himself.
Moonlight was able to provide me with new insights into topics that I couldn’t easily relate to. It addressed issues in our country’s history, and also discussed heavy topics, like homophobia and drug abuse. By following Chiron’s life, I was able to see a more close-up perspective of a completely different kind of life than my own, and because of this I have gained more social awareness and empathy.