Shining Light On Moonlight

By: Dubem M.

[Spoiler Warning]

“Men in society are not allowed to be vulnerable and sensitive, and that is especially the case with black men.” – Umberto G.

On February 26, 2017, the 89th annual Oscars were held in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and honoured the renowned movies of 2016. The myriad of awards ranged from the coveted Best Picture to Best Animated Feature. There is an award for all aspects of creating a movie or short film. At first, I was planning on writing an article about the most liked movies from the Oscar winners, but upon watching Moonlight, I believe it warrants its own article.

Moonlight is a marvellously real and touching coming-of-age story. The original piece was a play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” and was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film rendition was directed by Harry Jenkins and it went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay.

Moonlight is set in Liberty City, Miami and follows the life of a boy called Chiron, or “Little” or “Black”, as he grows and begins to understand himself and the world around him. When Chiron was a child he was called “Little”. When he was a teenager who was called “Black” by his friend and first love, Kevin, though he disliked the name, and as an adult he has donned the name “Black” despite his previous distaste of the nickname. The movie focuses on Chiron learning to accept himself as gay and how the world around him affects him and views him. Even while dealing with his conflicting emotions and coming to terms with his sexuality, Little has to deal with his mother who shows explicit disdain towards him and abuses drugs which augment her aggression and also has to deal with being bullied at school. His only reprieve from his harsh life is with Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monáe) who first encounter him when he was escaping from his bullies. They give him a place to rest, food and drink and even advise him about how to deal with his surfacing emotions and his own dignity.

“You may be gay, but don’t let nobody call you a faggot” – Juan

Juan takes such a liking to Chiron that he even teaches Chiron how to swim. This impacts and establishes Chiron’s love of the water which stays with him throughout his life.

“Tarell calls Miami a beautiful nightmare and I think what we’ve done is paint this nightmare in beautiful tones” – Harry Jenkins.

The use of colour to enhance atmosphere is extremely obvious in Moonlight and like the name suggests, the majority of colour work is through lighting. In the iconic “Stop Looking at Me” scene, the use of lighting is extremely prominent. Paula, Little’s mother, played by Naomi Harris, is flooded in an aggressively vivid magenta pink while Little is being supported by a bright warm white light which reflects on his white shirt making him effectively glow.

Additionally, according to an interview by IndieWire, the director specifically tried to “push the boundaries of [colour] contrast.”

Apart from the visual features, Moonlight also acts as a criticism of the fragility of masculinity. Revealed by Black’s inability to allow himself to cry and his later appearance in life, we can see his attempt to compensate for his natural sensitive disposition. Throughout all of Chiron’s hardships, he cries twice in the entire movie. Once when he was confronted by principle about his manhood and later in front of his mother when she was apologising for never being a real mother to him. Chiron does not allow himself to cry because in the setting he lives in, the ghetto, that would be perceived as a weakness.

“What do you cry about?”

“You cry?”

“Nah” – Chiron and Kevin

This is also a likely reason for how Chiron grew up. Chiron grew into a very buff, intimidating, and authoritative person. He got into the business of drugs like his mentor, friend and guardian Juan (Mahershala Ali) not only as a way to be closer with a mentor who is no longer there but also to further his façade as a fearless and imposing figure. Despite all of this, Chiron still expresses his uncorrupted side by not drinking and by not abusing drugs, he still understands the dangers and has not fallen into the dangerous spiral that consumed his mother and ruined his childhood.

The themes of “consequences,” “dignity,” and “identity” are prevalent in and they are represented throughout Moonlight through the effects the world has on Chiron and his development.



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