Reoccurrence of Oppression
Moonlight, a film by Barry Jenkins, explores the struggles of Chiron who is a gay, African American man. The narrative progressively unveils Chiron’s life as he questions his identity. Though the movie is set in current times, it is evident that Chiron encounters similar difficulties to African Americans in the Antebellum, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow periods. The narrative of Moonlight is important to our understanding of African American history as it shows that problems that African American’s face are reoccurring and have not yet been resolved.
One of the main themes in Moonlight is water. One uplifting scene in the movie is when Juan, a role model to Chiron, teaches him how to swim. At first, Chiron is scared to leave Juan’s side as he is afraid of the ocean. However, as Juan begins to teach him how to swim and shows him that the water is safe, Chiron relaxes. He had never had the opportunity to swim, even though he lived in Miami. This scene is uplifting because it is a turning point in the movie where Chiron is able to find happiness even through his oppression.
The fear or unfamiliarity with water is a reoccurring theme throughout African American history. For example, when Africans were first captured from the hinterland of West Africa, many had never seen the ocean. During the 15th – 19th centuries, 12 million Africans were captured, chained, and paraded to the coasts of West Africa. There, they were boarded on to large ships that were overcrowded and unsanitary. The captured Africans travelled for days in these conditions, uncertain of their fate. Many African’s first encounter with water was one in which they saw their families divide and their fellow brothers die, therefore it was a negative memory.
Chiron’s inability to swim could be caused by the diaspora of Africans after the middle passage. Many African Americans moved to plantations that were in swampy areas where they did not have the freedom, or access to water to learn how to swim. After the emancipation of slaves, African Americans did not have access to pools as many facilities were whites only. Furthermore, housing laws during the Jim Crow period prevented African Americans from swimming because many were forced to live in landlocked regions where they did not have access to safe, open bodies of water or even pools. It is plausible that the inability to swim for African Americans today could be caused by early fears of water and furthermore the segregation of whites and blacks.
Moonlight also parallels early African American history, as the family and community connection that Chiron has in Miami can be seen throughout African American history. Chiron lives in a community that is mostly African American and when his mother is uncapable to care for him the community intervenes. Juan takes him in and gives him food and a place to stay and mentors Chiron when his own family cannot.
Similarity, during the Antebellum period, enslaved people created a community to support one another during times of oppression. On the plantations, if the mother and father were working on the farms, the elderly people would take care of the children. Many slaves lived in close quarters and relied on each other in times of need. This occurred especially during the second middle passage, when African Americans had to find new families and communities when they were separated from their own.
Both Chiron and the enslaved people looked for community as a form of support. It is evident that throughout history, African American people provide for one another in times of oppression. This is significant because it shows that African Americans are currently still facing disadvantages that require them to rely on each other.
It is evident in Moonlight that the struggles that African Americans faced in history are still present. This contributes to my understanding of African American history as it allows me to recognize the current difficulties that African Americans face and how it relates to past oppression. It is clear that Chiron’s fear of water and connection to community and family are reminiscent of his ancestors. This movie prompts the question: Why are the forms of oppression that Chiron faces so similar to that of previous African Americans? It might be because the oppression that Chiron encounters is not different than the difficulties that previous African Americans faced, it has just changed form.