Blog Directory CineVerse: Three acts, one unforgettable character

Three acts, one unforgettable character

Sunday, December 13, 2020

One of the finest films to authentically capture the modern Black experience in America is Moonlight, the 2016 breakout picture written and directed by Barry Jenkins that surprised audiences with its honesty and depth of emotion. Our CineVerse club stepped into Moonlight mode this past week and engaged in an intensive discourse on the merits and majesty of this movie (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What did you find impressive, surprising, offbeat, or memorable about Moonlight?

  • This was the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture that had an all-black cast.
  • It’s brilliantly segmented into three parts, each given roughly equal length and importance, that depict the growth and maturation of an African-American male.
  • Instead of using a hip-hop or urban-flavored soundtrack, the film employs an orchestral score, although one that plays upon hip-hop and R&B motifs.
  • The timing of the release and embrace of this film is appropriate, considering how many in our culture are increasingly supportive of black lives and LGBTQ rights.

Themes examined in Moonlight

  • The struggle for identity, particularly black male identity in a world in which African-American males are often taught to act tough and masculine, suppress tenderness and emotions, and avoid looking or acting effeminate.
  • Exploring the black experience and the perceived powerlessness felt by many black males.
  • Coming-of-age and transitioning into adulthood
  • Water, and its power to cleanse, heal, comfort, awe, baptize, embolden, and inspire.
    • We see Chiron interact with water in several key scenes, including when he is taught to float and swim by Juan, when he immerses his face in ice water, when he takes a shallow bath, and when he explores his sexuality with Kevin on the moonlit beach.
    • In one scene, Chiron talks about crying so often that he feels as if he could simply transform into liquid and roll into the ocean.
    • Fittingly, the last shot of the film shows Little looking out upon the ocean, as if to suggest that he has come to embrace his destiny.
  • The dangers of toxic masculinity and a culture that rewards violence and aggression and punishes weakness and subservience.
  • Appearances and names can be deceiving. The film is interestingly titled “Moonlight” for reason: The title reminds us of the story that Juan relates to Chiron about how a stranger once told him: “In moonlight, black boys look blue.”
    • We hear Juan say that he abandoned the nickname “Blue” so that he could forge a new identity.
    • Likewise, in the third act, Chiron has adopted the nickname “Black” as well as a drug dealer lifestyle and the affectations (e.g., wearing gold teeth caps) that come with it.
    • When he reunites with an adult Kevin, Kevin sees through this façade and says this isn’t who Chiron truly is. By the end of the movie, we have hope that Chiron will embrace his true nature, stop hiding from his identity as a gay black man, and accept the love and affection he deserves.

Moonlight makes us think of other films, including:

  • Boyhood
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Blue Is The Warmest Colour
  • The Florida Project
  • Blackbird
  • Fresh
  • Killer of Sheep
  • The 400 Blows, which also features a stunning final shot of a boy staring at the ocean.

Other movies directed by Barry Jenkins

  • Medicine for Melancholy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk

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