Everyone has a story to tell, especially when it comes to the idea of the black experience and Hollywood. It seems like there is a common formula that applies to other ethnicities in America; but doesn’t seem to relate to young black Americans. The art of sharing the black man’s experience in America is well portrayed in the film “Moonlight” directed by Berry Jenkins. “Moonlight” is the story of a young black gay man going through poverty while trying to figure out what is means to be a man, especially what it means to be a strong black man.
“Moonlight” takes place in Miami, Florida during the late 1980’s-1990’s by a young man by the name of Chiron. The story of Chiron is a young poor black boy dealing with his sexuality at an early age along with the idea of “the strong black man.” With his father, out of his life, we notice in the film that a young Afro-Cuban drug dealer by the name of Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, takes Chiron under his wing and looks out of him like a father should. Towards the end of the film Chiron ends up becoming just like Black; Black is a young drug dealer who is “the man” around his block in Atlanta. What many would say is a “strong black man.” While his mother is on drugs and absent, Chiron must take care of himself and basically figure things out. Black’s girlfriend Teresa, played by Janelle Monae, throughout the film plays a mother figure even while Black is in jail, which makes the mother jealous of her and makes Chiron’s relationship with Teresa even closer.
The film is told in three parts, showing the different stages of Chiron becoming a man all played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. Each three acts show the stages of development for Chiron. “Little”, played by Alex R. Hibbert, is a young and quite Chiron, unaware of what the future may hold but looks up to Juan as a father figure even though he himself lives a lifestyle that is unsafe and dangerous. “Chiron”, Ashton Sanders, is a teenage faze that is trying to figure out where he fits in society, being a gay black teen and secretly falling in love with a young classmate by the name of Kevin. And finally, “Black”, played by Trevante Rhodes, is Chiron as a young man living in Atlanta, drug dealing, and still in the closet about his sexuality goes through a stage of forgiveness and awareness with his mother and Kevin.
When it comes to Hollywood sharing the black experience, specifically in portraying African American men, it seems that drug dealers, deadbeat dads, and jailbirds are the most popular portrayals. Yet Moonlight is able to bring in heavy topics among the narrative of African American boys in such a way that you end up thinking about your own life and the search of identity. Berry Jenkins took us on a ride through the mind of a young black boy struggling to find himself in America, let alone ghetto America. There are no rose-colored glasses with this film. There is nothing funny about this film. The characters feel human and the audience is taken along on a journey and get lost in the story. You start to feel like you can relate to these characters.
On Sunday, January 8, at the Golden Globes, Moonlight was nominated for six awards and took home Best Picture, Drama. Using 5 million for the budget being an independent film, it earned 13 million in the box office with little to no serious publicity. Showing that Hollywood needs to let us tell our stories, and the real stories about what we go through and how we get through it.
By Veronica “Roni” Williams
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