For Black History Month, I chose to watch the film Moonlight. Moonlight is a coming-of-age movie about a gay African American male named Chiron. The movie follows Chiron’s journey from childhood to adulthood, and highlights his struggles with family, friendships, and coming to terms with his sexuality. Moonlight is significant to our understanding of African American History because it highlights the themes of survival and self-fulfilling prophecies through Chiron’s childhood, teenage years, and adulthood.
The first part of the movie focuses on Chiron as a boy, who is referred to as Little because of his small size and quiet demeanor. He was born to a single mom who suffered from a crack addiction. Because of this, he sought comfort and guidance from Juan, the neighborhood drug dealer. Though Juan may not be one’s typical father figure, he was all Little had, as his mother grew more neglectful and concerned with her drugs than her child. Little’s connection with Juan is an example of community, which has been a theme throughout African American history. For example, on plantations, slaves were creating their own culture and communities taking care of one another. It was not uncommon for a slave to show up on a plantation without any family, so new ones would be taken under the wing of a slave who’d been there already. A significant scene during Little’s childhood is when he’s learning to swim with Juan. This was symbolic because it showed how Little literally had to learn to sink or swim, which mirrored what he figuratively needed to learn as well. A quote that stuck with me during this scene was Juan saying, “At some point, you got to decide for yourself who you’re going to be.” This leaves the viewer wondering if Little will let his upbringing define where he goes in the future or not.
The second part of the movie follows Chiron as a teenager. A significant scene in Chiron’s teenage years is when he is on the beach with his best friend Kevin. He has his first sexual encounter with a male. It is a positive and accepting moment for him, as he is constantly trying to navigate where he fits in as a gay African American. This serenity is short-lived for the viewer, as Chiron encounters even more difficulties as a teenager. It seems he’s even more outcasted, partially because his father figure is gone, and he has lost his sense of community. On top of that, his mother’s drug addiction has escalated, and eventually even Kevin betrays him in a fleeting moment. At school, a peer named Terrel manipulates Kevin into punching Chiron. Chiron feels betrayed and alone once again. The next day he retaliates against Terrel, which causes Chiron to get arrested and sent to jail in Atlanta, the place that shapes and changes him as a young adult.
The third stage of the movie focuses on Chiron’s young adulthood, and now his nickname is Black, something that Kevin had always called him. In jail, Black learned to survive by becoming a drug dealer. It’s here that viewers see Black starting to take on an alpha-male role, perhaps becoming a character typical of an African American male in a low-income community. Black has suddenly become a mirror image of Juan, with the same style and means of survival. Masculinity plays a huge part of Black’s identity, as he is now physically unrecognizable. Black’s need to adapt and survive in jail ties into African American history of slaves needing to take completely change their lifestyles in order to survive. For example, in West Africa, people were living free lives, some even in high-ranking tribes, but once captured, they needed to become someone new; someone with no rights, opinions, or freedom. They were dehumanized. Toward the end of the movie, Black reunites with Kevin, the last scene shows Kevin and Black embracing each other in bed. It finally feels like Chiron is on the path to self-acceptance.
All in all, Moonlight was a powerful film that embraced the themes of identity and survival. As we’re learning in class, your background (in this case being African American) really impacts the shaping of who you become. Slaves struggled with identity and coming to terms with who they were and who they wanted to be, just as Chiron constantly struggled with this throughout the film.