About two weeks ago I finally sat down and watched the movie Moonlight, with my boyfriend and was blown away by the story. I’d never scene a movie quite like it that seemed to so accurately depict my youth. I’m still trying to decide whether the movie was a gay coming -of-age story or a movie about bullying and drugs or a story about primitive black masculinity. I think it’s all of the above, which made the movie so great to me.
The movie resonated with me because I grew up in a very similar way as the main protagonist, Chiron. Like him, I grew up with a drug addicted mother, poor, yearning for a father figure. I was a gay child like the main character, growing up in another Florida ghetto where gay wasn’t allowed. I didn’t know what faggot meant until I was nearly a teenager and didn’t admit that I was one until high school.
I was a depressive child carrying the burden of my mother and siblings well-being on my shoulders, working hard in retail jobs and at school plotting my escape. This planning for escape from a bad life seemed to be at the heart of Moonlight as well. In fact I remember distinctly at 13 how I looked at a calendar counting the days of my sentence and hating my mother intensely. And like the main character I dealt with my share of ironic left-turns in my life. I grew up hating drugs but dealt with my own drug abuse like my mother. I never sold drugs like the main character in Moonlight but I might as well have, when I was ‘lost in the world’. It took my becoming and adult with a host of adult problems to realize the allure of drugs and to finally forgive my mother for her using them to escape her own life tragedies.
I’m forty now and am at the age where I spend sometime reflecting on my life and I can’t help but to think how differently my life would have been had my childhood been more traditional and nurturing. I think what touched my heart about Moonlight was how the main character, Chiron, choose this hypermasculity but still managed to hold on to this precious and fleeting sexual experience with his best friend, which I believe keep him gentle, soft, and human. I’ve been lucky in life that there have been more than just a handful of such moments, but those first few ones – like the time I first kissed a man, or when I saw my mother beam and cry with pride when I got my bachelors degree – I still hold on to till this day. I appreciate how this movie reminded me of those moments as well. It’s good I think to remember those times and people that touch us deeply, which is my great take away from this movie.
I’ve been reading some great and powerful takeaways of this movie by people whose takes are far more eloquent that mine. I recommend one in particular from my friend Max Gordon in an article called “Faggot As Footnote: On James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness?’ and ‘Moonlight'” which is in the The New Civil Rights Movement. You can head Max’s thoughtful piece here. I particularly appreciated Max’s thought that the marketing of the film along with its subtle suggestion of sex was meant to make the movie more palatable to a wider audience. Max writes:
“I am aware there are those viewers who say that this is to the film’s credit; the usual “we don’t need their sexuality crammed down our throats” argument. That without graphic sex the movie will be seen by a larger audience, a movie about two black gay men that you could take your grandmother or church group to see. The idea is that if the hardcore homophobe is able to stick her toe in the gay water and not have her sensibilities offended, she may change her mind politically and be more supportive of gay causes in the future, less hateful. One reason this argument is persuasive is because sometimes it seems true; I’ve met people whose homophobic fathers ended up fans of Will and Grace, macho guys who would frame their faces with jazz-hands and say, laughing, “Just Jack.” (Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged that his stance on gay marriage changed in part having watched Will and Grace. ) Underplaying the graphic gayness may be great for a family movie outing, maybe even for politics; not so much for artist integrity, or the truth.”
Later Max appeals for a more direct depiction of the complexities of black male sexuality in the movies saying that we need a black Brokeback Mountain experience to break stereotypes and taboos. Which I tend to agree with. Outside of the controversies of the movie I have to say I’m in much appreciation of this gentle look at the black community because it is to me so honest and simultaneously sensitive. The movie opens up possibilities in telling black stories which were, before it’s release, unheard of; a testimony to its success.
I found myself humming some old Stone Temple Pilots while daydreaming today and though I’d share with you the tune. Here’s “Sin” from STP’s first album Core.
Last night was First Friday so I that’ll be my next blog post. Until then be good and well!