Watching the film Moonlight was like going on a Ferris Wheel through the span of a life – it doesn’t really stop, it keeps developing, with each new phase spotting something new. Life is just like this – continuous – we form identities, understandings and reactions based on what we’ve experienced. The story of who you are is very complicated. The story of who you are is ever-unfolding. This story, based off the previously unpublished play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, takes us into three phases of the life of Chiron, a young gay, black boy living in a poor neighborhood of Miami. His mom is a drug addict, his father left and he is bullied regularly for being gay and short statured.
There is so much to say about this film that it is difficult to put into words. It’s uncomfortable, lovely, multi-dimensional. It’s the honest picture of what the development of identity looks like. You see things in blurry forms because life doesn’t really stop. The circle does not stop because you are grown – no, life continues; you continue to develop, lear and adapt to new settings, as if baptized by them at various stages. The movie, involving water in nearly every phase of major development in Chiron’s life, is an artistic picture of this.
In the beginning of the film, set in an impoverished neighborhood of Miami, we encounter the quiet Chiron, a young boy, running for his life from a crowd of bullies. Three phases of identity are used to document the identity and story of Chiron; in each phase he is called by a different name. The first identity given to Chiron, Little, seems to be compulsory simply because of his size, young age and his quiet surrender. Like everyone else living in the situation they were born in, the first stage of identity seems to be what everyone else calls you. Chiron is called Little, yet it is not what he wants to be called, but because he is small it is simply forced on him. So many things not figured out at this point, Chiron is but a sketch, yet everyone can start to tell he is unique and possibly attracted to the same sex; and so call him faggot. Yet, even in this season, he is given safe people, Juan and Teresa, who play a critical role in the early portion of the film, who can see through this title to who he is. This is the first time Chiron is safe and has permission to be unashamed of who he is.
At some point you have to decide for yourself who you’re gonna be. You can’t let anyone make that decision for you…Faggot is a word used to make gay people feel bad. You can be gay; but don’t let anyone call you a faggot. -Juan
The second phase is neutral ground, where he is simply called Chiron, the name given to him at birth. It’s the place where he, still quiet and running from the violence and rejection that often comes with homosexuality (and really, non-conformity in any area), begins to explore who he is, while still being influenced by what everyone else has said about him. It is here, he realizes for the first time his attractions and finds another safe place to be in his lifelong friend, Kevin. Unfortunately, Kevin is a people-pleaser and does what others tell him to do. His fear of people’s opinion leads him to be pressured into violence against Chiron, igniting a response of such reciprocal violence as to wash a brand new phase over Chiron. After reacting to this act of violence with his own newly decided tough identity, Chiron ends this phase in a swift choice to harden into the only man he ever saw to be strong. He gets a little lost in this phase for a bit and has strong consequences for his choices for several years. Then, out of nowhere, an interruption changes things.
The last phase of the film is the phase in which a turn of events; namely, making peace with his mother and his friend Kevin, Chiron begins to choose the identity for himself that is closer to who he is at heart. After Chiron had chosen a lifestyle of hardness and drug-dealing in Atlanta, and returns to the place he started to the one who knows him best (Kevin), he is kindly confronted:
This you?? … That isn’t what it is. That ain’t you. Who is You?
He had been moonlighting the whole film as someone else and now under the light of the moon, he is confronted with who he really is. When confronted by who we really are by someone who actually knows us, we soften.
I love films like these, because they invite and challenge us to our own examination our lives – to make a few choices of our own.
Who are you?
It’s clear that we are given many names in our lives, some are true enough, though mere aspects of the whole of who we are. Then, there are the identities that are directly contrary to who we are, which people see and call us by, outside of knowing who we really are. We all have taken on a handful of false identities and have been fearfully moonlighting through our lives as a shadow of who we really are. Yet, we have also come into contact with glimpses of the beauty that makes us feel truly ourselves and safe. We tend to forget these experiences a little more easily, unfortunately, because they are not forced on us, like the false ones.
My first call to action is: Watch the film if you like – it is lovely – wonderful compositions, flowing music, multi-dimensional and hearty performances.
My second call to action is to make your own decision about who you are. I want to challenge you to take some time to think and consider what experiences you have had that made you feel the most yourself. Consider the things you love and what makes you come alive and maybe consider working these things more into your life. Oppositely, consider what makes you feel least like yourself? What do people call you or say about you that doesn’t feel true? Maybe consider working these things out?
Here’s wishing you the best in your carnival ride of a life. Why not make a few adjustments to really enjoy it?