Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Gay, Black America: Moonlight

MOONLIGHT is a newish American film with an all- black cast that deals with drug addiction, family dislocation, struggles with personal identity and, especially, the human need for love, connection and physical touch.

It charts the changes that take place in the life of one male and his continual struggles with his identity as a young boy, through to a painful adolescence, and an uncertain adult. Unlike the intelligent film BOYHOOD, which charted growth over a long period of time, played by the same actor, and therefore filmed over many years, MOONLIGHT features three separate actors of different ages representing the main character.

As a young boy, Chiron lives on a council estate in a poor black section of Miami with his crack-addicted mother. She can barely look after him, and the bullying he attracts from his peers goes unnoticed and untended. He is just unable to quite fit in. He has a promising relationship with a surrogate mother and father (Juan) around the corner, and much to his mother’s chagrin, he spends quite a lot of time there. It is here that his issues are sensitively dealt with. He asks for the meaning of ‘faggot’, and is told that it is an unkind word for someone who is gay. It is almost verging on a Scout-Atticus relationship, until the boy finds out that Juan deals in drugs. Not only that, but he supplies the boy’s mother. It’s a depressing coda to the first story. A cut throat and desperate society.

The second story features the boy at about 18. Things are no better. He is still pretty much monosyllabic in his responses to things. There are years of pain in his inability to communicate. His mother is still around, but she is a sad, hopeless case. She demands money from him to support her habit and has taken up prostitution. His relationships with his peers is still pretty much disastrous. Two other boys stand up. One, who calls him ‘black’, but is nevertheless sympathetic, introduces him to weed, and sex. There is a rare moment of softness in the film when the two young men kiss tentatively, and one masturbates the other. The other male is not so comforting. He takes a homophobic stand against him and seems to somehow resent his softness and sensitivity. He bullies the gay friend into bashing him, and after several blows, when he is down on the ground, the cowardly mob kick and continue to bash him. It sparks some sort of resolve and anger because, shortly after somewhat recovering, he marches into school filed with revenge and determination, and smashes a wooden chair over the bully, just as one desperate prisoner might do to another prisoner who has stepped over the mark one time too many. Incarceration follows, although this is a period of his life that is left unexplored.

Flash forward to when he is at least 30 but possibly more. Not much has changed spiritually. He seems even more distant and empty. He is, however, a mountain of a man, a bit implausibly so. He was always skinny, of slender though tall stature. His mother is sad and regretful for her crap parenting skills, apologizing to him in rehab. She’s quite broken. If he has any purpose now, it is in his huge muscles, gold chains and aggressive exterior, including ‘grills’, or gold false teeth covers.  Out of the blue, a phone call comes from the person all those years ago who introduced him to tenderness. It seems neither of them have forgotten it.
It is a long drive to the café which his old friend runs. The men are very tentative, and this is all nicely and authentically, and touchingly done. Where do each fit now, with the other? The conversation is filled with probings and uncertainties. It has been a long time. Is there still an attraction? One of the final frames of the film show the men holding each other. It is the love, and understanding, and simply the art of comfort and touching, that we all crave. This is probably the most interesting Chiron. Trying to prove himself, in his masculinity, but the same numbness and softness underlies everything.

The story itself is quite good but not overly flash. The film has won plaudits for its ‘brave’ and original take on homosexuality in the black world. The film deserves the most credit, however, for the beauty of its lens work. It is lovely to look at throughout. When the camera glides around, and is hand-held, and the unusual point of view shots are chosen, it’s not because it is trying to be clever and arty. It is part of the way of telling the story in a powerful way. The film begs to be a part of some high school or university film course.

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