Moonlight dwells on a narrative that society has been in need of for a long time now. Barry Jenkins has elegantly constructed a coming of age drama which is universal but very much about the black experience.
The movie opens with a drug deal on the streets of Miami where Moonlight is set, this may at first throw an audience off. If you do not know much about the narrative you would assume this film to be something similar of City of God. However, Moonlight is a lot more poetic and empathetic. Using intimate camera angels, Jenkins tells a story with three crucial life stages – childhood, adolescence and adulthood – to depict the life of a gay black man. Moonlight conveys what it means to be black in America, black and poor in America, and black, poor, gay and a man in America.
Chiron, played by three actors, is not used as a symbol but rather to tastefully express the themes of love, oppression, intimacy and identity under the black community. Throughout the narrative, Chiron is micro-aggressive in response to society, confused by what his identity is and why his neighbourhood acknowledge it with such isolation and aggression. During his childhood stage, Chiron is being told who he is before he even knows himself – much of what we see in western culture. Men are socialised to be authoritarian with their sexual identity, there is no room to be vague or unsure. The gasping moment of when he asks Juan (Mahershala Ali) “What does faggot mean?” and “Am I a faggot?” is a turning point for this narrative and completely illustrates the relationship between himself and his only parent. A drug addict, single mother who’s lost in the world just as much as her son but is so damaged and self consumed that she is unable to part any wisdom.
Chiron is silent, withdrawn and fragile but Jenkins does not completely focus on despair. He drowns us with moonlight and beautiful scenery of landscapes, the sea and the sand. The film is almost as completely silent as its lead character, during moments of emotion and intensity, and will resonate with anyone who has been on the same journey with identity as him.
An absolute ravishing and delicate achievement by Jenkins. Moonlight hits cinemas in the U.K on February 17th.