Moonlight, A Refreshing Sermon On Black Masculinity

Three Oscar wins later, Moonlight marks uncharted ground on the representation of black masculinity and sexuality in mainstream media and film.
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It must have been August 2016, in my boredom and procrastination, while surfing the internet that I came across the trailer for Moonlight. The entire time, my mouth was agape, after those two minutes ended I proceeded to hound the internet for more of the film (a longer trailer, interviews, behind the scenes, anything really), only to sadly find out that there was no South African release date at the time. Fast forward to February 2017, eight Oscar nominations (and three wins, including Best Picture) later and thousands of affected audiences worldwide (including me, thank you Cinema Nouveau), Moonlight marks uncharted ground on the representation of black masculinity and sexuality in mainstream media and film.

Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film Moonlight is an emotive tale of a young black boy, Chiron, growing up in a drug and gang plagued Miami neighbourhood. The story sounds unimaginative and a narrative all too familiar, but Moonlight delves deeper and ponders on masculinity, sexuality and blackness with a tenderness I've never seen before. The film focuses on three parts of Chiron's life and he is played by three mostly unknown and brilliant actors with the utmost commitment: Alex Hibbert (Young Chiron/Little), Ashton Sanders (Teenage Chiron) and Trevante Rhodes (Adult Chiron/Black).

From the introductory scene to the last, the film is searingly honest. The film expresses its identity so deliberately, yet simultaneously feeling effortless and intimate. It's this intimacy that has enabled audiences to easily connect with the characters, as they feel familiar. Human.

The whole film is wildly majestic in its gestures but humble. Quiet. Gentle. There are scenes in the movie which are intentionally silent. These are my favourite moments in the film, they allow the viewer to internalise and subjectively interpret that silence, which makes for an engaging experience (if you're paying attention).

Another triumphant aspect of Moonlight, is how break-out director, Barry Jenkins, juxtaposes different kinds of masculinity, not only displaying the variants of masculinity but that they co-exist alongside each other, in some twisted societal eco-system. There is the overwhelming and choking, hetero-patriarchal masculinity of the neighbourhood in which the film's protagonist Chiron lives, then his own kept and tender masculinity, the archetypal toxic and insecure masculinity of the school bully, Terrell, the erratic and performative masculinity of Chiron's close friend and "love interest", Kevin and finally the complex, layered and warm masculinity of Chiron's fatherly ally, Juan.

Many have called to question the restraint of the film and I've heard many wish for a lustful gay sex scene especially after Chiron reunites with Kevin, a decade after their first sexual encounter but I appreciate the director's vision at denying us this. Many black gay films have been characterised by over-sexualisation and lacked the nuances of a strong narrative that Moonlight has in truckloads. Moonlight is a master class on tasteful storytelling while delicately tackling the contentious issues of black masculinity and sexuality.

Barry Jenkins has created an overarching seminal piece of art that will endure and I hope the film is adopted into school curricula, to inform and educate not only black men but all men, on masculinity and its many depictions. Overall, Moonlight is a story of love, redemption and survival. That masculinity needn't be hard and aggressive. That people do change. But most of all, it's the story of the resilient nature of the (black) spirit.


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