Watching Moonlight was quite an experience, and I feel it a beautiful film that all kinds of emotional chords for many reasons. It is undeniable that mainstream cultural representations have characterized Black men as hypersexual, hyper-heterosexual, and aggressive perpetrators of violence for centuries. After reading Vaught’s work, it was quite clear that the movie wanted to dispel this deeply ingrained and racist perspective, as well as the “extreme structural liberalism” found in the anti-bullying Act and so many other pieces of legislation which systemically erase the “collective existence of Black gay youth in schools”.
By following Little, Chiron, and Black’s life, we are exposed to dangers of a system that has continuously placed Black youth in danger and forced them into the role of “perpetrators”. Being from Miami, I am familiar with Overtown and Liberty City, two historically Black neighborhoods that have suffered innumerable blows at the hands of the government. Overtown is actually quite close to the Wynwood Walls which are now overrun with tourists and bourgeois citizens who couldn’t care less about the history of the area and the people it once belonged to. It was a relief to see that the movie accurately portrayed these areas and was true to the struggles of its residents.
From the beginning of the movie, I felt a great amount of sympathy for Little and even for the other boys who he played with, especially when it was shown that the ball they were playing with was made of paper. These boys were thrown into a vicious cycle before they were even born, a cycle perpetuated by white supremacy. It was interesting and saddening to see how stereotypical masculinity was such a key aspect of all of their lives, that they had to constantly prove their “manliness” to one another in order to fit in.
Despite such prominent and toxic views of masculinity that colored the children’s lives, one of the most striking aspects of this film was the fleeting tenderness that characterized certain scenes regardless of them taking place in such a harsh world. Juan’s character was so important (shout-out for representing Black Cubans!!!) because a stereotypical “”thug”” figure, a drug dealer, a “perpetrator”, was portrayed as having a deep emotional connection with Little which unfolded in their conversations on the beach and in his home. He was not homophobic and did not shame Little for his questions. He gave him the strenght to be who he wanted to be. He allowed him a piece of innocence in a world where Black kids are not given the chance to be kids.
On a different note, I really appreciated the fact that this film portrayed queerness that isn’t hyper-sexualized. While I love steamy gay sex scenes as much as the next guy, I am always happy when queer characters are (rarely) not reduced to, as Vaught says, “their individual sexual predilections”. Even when Kevin gives Chiron a handjob, there wasn’t that icky feeling I get when it’s pretty clear a queer character is being hyper-sexualized. It was innocent, and another important scene characterized by a light tenderness, something which I was very grateful for.
Another message I took away from this movie that really hit home is the fact that sometimes, life is so fraught with chaos that you have no choice but to put your queerness on the back of your mind. Chiron, myself, and many other queer people who are layered with other marginalized identities sometimes don’t even have the privilege to focus on unpacking your queerness, because to do so would simply be too overwhelming. Repression becomes an unhappy means of survival, and when you are finally given the room to breath and be who you are, relief is immeasurable. The last scene, where Kevin caresses Black and we see Little reveling in the moonlight was incredibly moving, and I found myself letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Like I said, this movie brought on a wave of different feelings and I have so much more to say, especially about his mother, Teresa, and the role of women in this film. I’ll stop talking for now though, and I really look forward to this week’s discussion!!