At a period when gay culture is overwhelmingly white, Barry Jenkins explores the experience of queer black men and these new challenges we face
The film Moonlight is extraordinary for many reasons, but to me it is most so for two. First, consideration be given to black boys to be precious, at a time when news narratives perpetually make it seem as if the United States considers them to be utterly expendable. Second, it acknowledges the effects that the stalking ghosts of premature death and incarceration have upon gay black masculinity and it manages to do so without ever diminishing the lives full of complex humanity that black gay men still manage to have in America while navigating that reality.
So often, gay lives in America are coded as white, and the forces that shape the lives of faggot people of color say, how immigration affects being Chicano and gay in Calfornia, or how police surveillance affects being black and lesbian in the New York are dismissed, as gay identity is usually swept up into whiteness. Moonlight eschews this reductivism entirely, brilliantly portraying in a lyrical tale how love and connect attempt to take hold.
The fact that there are about a million and a half black men disappeared from American society by early death and incarceration is not a side issue to black homosexual humen. Its surely no side issue to Chiron, Moonlights hero, who successfully seeks out a father figure, Juan( Mahershala Ali ), merely to lose him to an early death. And yet, Moonlight also shows how creative and brilliant black humanity is at being so much more than its pain. Director Barry Jenkinsdoesnt dwell on Juans demise as much as he does on the beauty of his embracing of Chiron in his arms in the sea, on his smile, on his joyful proclamation that you can find black people wherever you go in the world.
Another gift Jenkins devotes not just to American cinema, but to American culture, is that he illustrates black boyhood as something worthy of rooting for to succeed. It is not especially difficult to attain white boyhood precious. In the 2014 movie Boyhood, director Richard Linklater encouraged the audience to hold as precious and unique Mason, a banal and wholly average white American child who existed in an imaginary nearly all-white Texas. Mason and his friend have taken part in petty vandalism, and also drink and drive and yet, Mason , no angel, was excused and held dear in a manner that is a black child never would be.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about a Yale study where pre-school teachers were asked to watch videos of very young children to look for signs of difficulty, and eye-tracking software revealed their eyes went for the black boys first and watched them the most. And why wouldnt they? As consumers of non-fiction media in America, we are always being told that black sons are suspicious and that violence against them is justifiable.
The same week Moonlight opened, a sign celebrating Emmett Till, murdered for whistling at a white woman , was riddled with bullet holes a 14 -year-old still considered suspect, six decades after being lynched. But white boys, like Boyhoods Mason, are considered innocent by default. As we saw the same performer, Ellar Coltraine, grow up on film over 12 years, we were encouraged to see him as the future of America, worth protecting.
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