Moonlight: The Story of Navigating Black Male Sexuality by Deja Alfred

Black History Month is a special time of year when everyone from all different walks of life can come together to recognize and celebrate the many achievements of black people throughout history. Recently, I was able to attend one of the many events held on The University of San Diego’s campus in recognition of black history month. The event I attended was a screening of the critically acclaimed movie Moonlight. This film, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is sort of coming-of-age story that follows the main character, Chiron Harris, throughout three different stages of his life. Throughout the film, the audience is able to follow along as Chiron navigates the difficulties of understanding his identity. I was glad to see that this film was one of the films that would be screened and discussed on campus during black history month because the film itself does a great job exploring the issues surrounding black male identity, and more specifically, the sexual identity of black males. Moonlight, and the themes that it presents has made a significant contribution to black history because it so greatly highlights some of the many struggles that black males have faced both in the past and currently.

Although the life story of Chiron Harris is presumed to be fictional, his story does emulate the actual life stories of many black men living in America. Chiron’s story begins with him as a young boy living in a less than ideal neighborhood accompanied by a mother who is too busy dealing with her own struggles to look after him. Chiron eventually crosses paths with the neighborhood drug lord, Juan, who takes him under his wings and becomes sort of a father figure to young Chiron. This important because although the film highlights the stereotype of fatherless black children, it also breaks down that stereotype by including Juan’s character into the narrative. It is clear that Juan isn’t the best choice as a role model for Chiron given his lifestyle choices. However, through his presence in Chiron’s life, he is able to help guide him through some of the tough expectations of black masculinity that have already been placed upon him at such a young age.

As Chiron moves into his teenage years, he seems to struggle even more with his identity, specifically his sexual identity. Chiron seems to consistently try to suppress his homosexual desires out of fear that others in his community will think that something is wrong with him. This aspect of the film is hugely important for many black males who have gone through some of the same struggles as Chiron. Until the release of this film, stories about of LGBTQ people of color had been largely ignored and, or misrepresented. Therefore, having these struggles played out on screen allows for a more open discussion about the negative stigma that has been unfairly placed upon homosexuality within the black community. Historically, being a gay black man has often been linked to alienation from the black community and has often been met with intense homophobic judgment. This can cause black men to feel the need to suppress who they really are and even alter their masculinity in a way that would help them avoid being ridiculed by others in their community. This need to alter one’s masculinity is also something that Chiron deals with as he gets older.

Once Chiron enters adult hood, we see that there is an apparent shift in the development of Chiron’s character. He becomes this hyper masculine individual who is still very much out of touch with who he really is but has conformed to be the ideal of black masculinity in order to avoid further judgment. This is something that historically, has happened a lot throughout black history. Over the years many black people have either forced themselves or have been forced by others to conform to societal norms out of fear that they will be ridiculed simply for being who they are. It isn’t until the end of the film that we see Chiron outwardly address some of his suppressed feelings about his sexuality but even then, he is still hiding behind the fake persona of a hypermasculine black man. Despite this, there is still a sense of hope that Chiron will eventually come to terms with his identity as a gay black man.

Overall, Moonlight is a film first of its kind, to accurately tackle the issues of black, sexual identity. This film was so widely received that it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, subsequently becoming the first film with an all-black cast to win the award. It goes without say that Moonlightwill forever be a major achievement and an important aspect of black history.


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