Stillpoint Staff Series: “The Essentiality of Moonlight’s Queer Black Masculinity” by Manisha Banga

  Queer media is largely white. As a non-white queer woman myself, this is a fact that I came to terms with early on—not only would queerness receive only meager representation in television, books, and movies, but the queerness that was represented would be a white, sanitized version of queerness, only barely reflective of real experience with sexuality.

Barry Jenkin’s film Moonlight reverts this trope, brilliantly and beautifully and heart-wrenchingly. Not only is Moonlight an incredible movie for its thoughtful dialogue, its bold cinematography, and its beautiful acting, but further for simply being what it is—a movie that, with serious intention, jumps into the depths of queer black masculinity.

While this movie was dazzling for its portrayal of black masculinity and for its portrayal of gayness, the true exceptionalism in this movie lies the ways in which these identities interact with each other, complexly and with heartbreak and hope at once. The film takes us through three different stages of the life of our main character, Chiron. All three actors who play Chiron play him beautifully, and the youngest actor, Alex Hibbert, displays a startling sweetness and vulnerability as he is partially adopted by drug dealer Juan, played by the vividly talented

Mahershala Ali.

In one of the most striking scenes in the film, a young Chiron asks Juan, “What’s a faggot?” After some thought, Juan answers, “Faggot is a word people use to make gay people feel bad.” Chiron then asks, “Am I a faggot?”

“No,” Juan says. “You might be gay, but don’t let nobody call you a faggot.”

The utter power of this exchange threw me aback, startled by my own emotional response. The thoughtful tenderness with which Juan deals with this issue, and the display of a black drug dealer’s kindness and empowerment of a young boy is essential to the power of the movie, and further essential to the development of Chiron.

Chiron’s development continues to startle at every turn, and his relationship with childhood friend Kevin is sweet, devastating, and then sweet once again. Reverting the unhappy-ending controversy in media that catalyzed the hashtag #BuryYourGays, Moonlight ends on a hopeful note, with a grown, masculine Chiron reunited with Kevin. This film doesn’t give you the tragic gay ending you fear.

Nor does this film try to shove Chiron into any boxes. By the end of the film, the once whip-thin and quiet Chiron is a muscular, grill-wearing, and still quiet man. He doesn’t fit into any stereotypes of what a gay man should be, and being a bulky drug dealer (inhabiting, we assume, Juan’s role) doesn’t preclude him from being gay.

Listen—this is the kind of movie we’ve been waiting for, and this is the kind of movie that we need to support. Moonlight will be showing at the Ciné in Athens from February 17th to 23rd, and if you haven’t seen it (or, frankly, even if you have), I highly recommend that you go support it. This movie is life-changing—for black people, for queer people, for those who are both or neither. This is the kind of movie that yanks your heart right out of your chest and gently massages a new softness into it before putting it back in. This is the movie that we need, right now more than ever. And I’m so thankful that even after everything, we still live in a world where people like Barry Jenkins make art like Moonlight.

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