Moonlight: The Intersectionality of African American Men

The screening Moonlight took place in the Warren Auditorium with three panelists to cover themes and questions about the movie afterwards. The panelists included Professor Tallie, Professor Pierson, and Professor Miller. While there wasn’t a large audience, it made the viewing more personal; it also created a better discussion when the movie concluded. Before attending the screening Moonlight, I knew it was an award winning movie earning three Oscars starring Mahershala Ali, but that was the extent of my knowledge. After watching the movie, it is clear that director Barry Jenkins captured issues of intersectionality and identity through the life of Chiron, a gay African American man living in Miami in the 1980s.

While the purpose of Moonlight can be debated, I believe Barry Jenkins envisioned exemplifying the difficulties of intersectionality specifically related to African American men. The audience sees first hand the adversaries Chiron faces as well as some struggles faced by a few secondary characters such as Kevin, Chiron’s friend and love interest, and Terrel, Chiron’s bully. In the panel following the screening, the professors discussed both Kevin and Terrel’s wrestle with their sexuality. Chiron faced blatant discrimination for being gay as he was bullied and harassed by Terrel, but Kevin and Terrel exemplified different ways of coping with a rejected sexuality. Kevin hid behind a mold that was to fit in and be popular. While it isn’t clear if Terrel is gay or not, he clearly faced inner turmoil as he hid behind the mold of a bully. These characters demonstrate the constant battle of what it is to be an African American, what it is to be a man, and what it is to be an African American man. There are persistent stereotypes that surround African American men in today’s society. To be gay is to be weak. As demonstrated by Kevin when beating Chiron, if you aren’t punching people down, you are being punched down.

Chiron also faces issues of poverty and child abuse. His mother is a drug addict who emotionally abuses him and frequently puts her self-interests above her son’s. With an absent father and an abusive mother, Chiron finds comfort with Juan and Teresa who become parental figures for him.  While their presence is impactful at a young age, it isn’t until Chiron is older that the audience sees the true impression left on him. As an adult, Chiron emulates the man Juan was before he died. Chiron dresses like Juan and even becomes a drug dealer. This comes as no surprise as Chiron had no male figures in his life besides Juan. With Chiron rejecting his own identity, he takes on someone else’s. It is easier to become someone else, someone more masculine, than to be himself. This also brings in issues surrounding the cycle of poverty.

From a young age, Chiron was born into poverty. This in itself plays into Chiron’s identity. If Chiron were a wealthy African American male, I believe his story would be very different, but social status is important in intersectionality and self-identity.

With the main theme of intersectionality, it is important to note the significance this movie has when looking at history. African American men have always been expected to play stereotypical, masculine roles. From the beginning of slavery, men were given physical jobs while women were to work in the house cooking and or cleaning. To like a man is to be feminine, so to be gay is to be feminine. Femininity has historically been seen as a weakness. Looking back, to show any sign of weakness is a major flaw. African American men rose up strong and powerful using their labor to create our country. To go against an image of strength and power is highly condemned as Moonlight exemplified. Moonlight also demonstrated the issues surrounding the cycle of poverty. African Americans have fought for equal education, but still to this day, we are lacking in this equality. Chiron followed the same path as Juan. Even though he went to school, he was arrested and became a drug dealer. This cycle is toxic, and shines a light on inequality today.

Moonlight is an incredible movie with many significant features; however, I believe the most prominent purpose of the movie was to reveal struggles surrounding the intersectionality of Africa-American men.

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