“I was a wild li’l shorty, man, just like you. Runnin’ around with no shoes on when the moon was out. This one time, I run by this old, this old lady… I was runnin’, hollerin’, cutting’ a fool, boy. This old lady, she stopped me. She said : “Running around, catching up all that light. In moonlight, black boys look blue. You blue. That’s what I gon’ call you : Blue.”
– So your name Blue ?
– At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gon’ be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” —- Juan to Little Chiron
As everybody seemed to be literally obsessed with Damien Chazelle’s last movie La La Land, there’s a movie that actually nobody saw it coming from the unknown darkness and like a thin patch of light, Moonlight reversed the trend at the 89th Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Picture… I personally believed and bet several times that Moonlight would make such a strong entry at these Awards. In a world dominated by American blockbusters and their handsome actors and actresses, Moonlight – as an independent movie – restores us hope.
Directed by Barry Jenkins and based on a play named In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue written by Tarell Alvin McCraney as a drama school project which remained unpublished yet, Moonlight stars Alex R. Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, André Holland and Naomie Harris. It deals with the story of a young Afro-American, Chiron, who tries to live his life in Miami’s deprived neighborhoods. We will follow Chiron’s attempt to find his place in society during three turning points of his life and of his own “identity building” as well : when he’s just a kid, then as he becomes a teenager and finally, when he is an adult.
In the poor neighborhoods of Miami where drugs activities are in full swing, the little Chiron tries to “survive” as he is harassed by what it seems to be some classmates of him. Moreover, he is confronted to his mother’s addiction for crack and cocaine. In all this mess, he desperately looks for a paternal figure, someone who will be able to help him. He will find this support in the character of one of the neighborhood’s dealer, Juan. As he was his father, Juan will help Chiron to face his own demons and to prepare for what will come next for him as Chiron is about to grow up in a society where “different” people like him are not treated well. Juan advises Chiron to make his own path as he did when he was young. Nevertheless, Chiron keeps questioning a lot about himself. Why does he feel himself so different, compared to the other boys ? Why does it seems to be bad ? Why does her mother keep insulting him of “faggot”, because of his difference ?
“What’s a faggot ? – A faggot is… a word used to make gay people feel bad. – Am I a faggot ? – You can be gay, but you gotta let nobody call you no faggot. – How do I know ? – You just do. I think. – You’ll know when you know. [silence] – Hey… You ain’t gotta know right now, all right ? Not yet”. —- Little Chiron to Juan and Theresa
Chiron is now a teenager. At school, he tries to avoid his classmate Terrel who takes a guilty pleasure to bully him. He spends time with Theresa, Juan’s girlfriend, who lives alone after Juan’s death. Chiron’s mother, Paula, is still addicted to drugs and even prostitutes herself. One night on a beach, Chiron and his closest friend Kevin, discuss about their ambitions and the nickname that Kevin gave to Chiron : “Black”. After a moment, they kiss and what it would never happen happens. After that, at school, Terrel forces Kevin to take part in a sort of a hazing ritual where they have to seriously hurt Chiron. Kevin, willingly, felt himself obliged to follow Terrel’s orders. Then, as Chiron soon understands that nobody can help and understand him, he chooses to do something to stop Terrel from bullying him again and smashes a chair into Terrel’s back. Finally, Chiron is arrested by the police.
Chiron lives now in Atlanta. Unrecognizable, the adult he has become seems to be another person. What made Chiron’s singularity has completely disappeared. In this last part, he will have to face his mother, who lives in a drug treatment center and then, Kevin. Chiron is definitely reluctant to talk to him after all these years…
From Little, he will become Chiron, then Black. From the innocent boy he was, he will have to make his own path in order to become the person he wants. Learning to face his deepest fears, to shape its own personality.
With Moonlight, Barry Jenkins gives us a powerful drama, full of wisdom. With its structure in three parts which makes it a sort of a UFO in the modern cinema, the movie presents three moments of life with three different actors. They all play the role to perfection while they’re giving continuity to the character as he gradually evolves in the story. They deeply build in its roots the character of Chiron in order to make him a strong character which they bring to him a new dimension at each step of the story. The rest of the cast, which constantly gravitates around Chiron, is excellent as well, from Chiron’s mother to Juan and Kevin.
The staging and the making of the movie is modest and intimist. Consequently the expression of Chiron’s fears to his classmates and feelings towards Kevin becomes more natural and for godsake, it proves that a movie doesn’t need all the time to have hard and endless scenes with sex on screen so we can deduce the characters share feelings or everything else. This intimacy – as we’re regularly very close to Chiron on screen – creates a frontier between him and the rest of the world. This frontier underlines the perpetual loneliness of Chiron, the incomprehension of people, the difficulty of being gay and black in the Afro-American community.
What impressed me most is the use of the silence : indeed, it is omnipresent in the movie. The silence of the sea, of the waves. The silence of an empty corridor. The silence of a boy whose eyes are closed. The silence of a mother, screaming that his son is a “faggot”. The silence of a miserable childhood. The silence of a little boy who looks for a role model, of a lost teenager towards the violence of the world, of a helpless adult who doesn’t know what to do with his emotions and feelings. When Juan says “In moonlight, black boys look blue”, the word “blue” also refers to melancholy. Too the blue color is very prominent in the movie (numerous blue clothes, the sea, the scenes’ light at night).
The light is very natural and reinforces the sensation of immersion with Chiron. Thus the gentleness of the staging, allowed by the light, contrasts with the climate of violence and conflicts that Chiron has to deal with. The innocence of the little Chiron also contrasts with the insults he heard, insults he didn’t really understand yet in the first part of the movie as he is just a child so these insults that allude to his difference and his potential sexuality appear clearly abstract to him. His quest in this hostile environment is governed by the law of the strongest. An environment where you can’t show fear, where you have to behave with an extreme masculinity. After all, Chiron’s wish is only to fit in the community without denying who he is.
Moonlight questions a lot, like Chiron questions himself. How can we evolve in an environment that oppresses us ? Does our childhood determine the adult we will become ? Is the society’s power so big that we have to alienate ourselves – completely forgetting who we are and our personality as well – in order to be accepted (like Chiron did in the third part of the movie) ? Lots of questions but no answers for sure. Only silence. And in this silence, Moonlight reveals to be a real masterpiece.