“What’s a faggot?”
I gripped the arm of my seat a little harder when “Little,” the character played by the young but demonstrably talented Alex R. Hibbert, asked Juan (played by Mahershala Ali) this question.
Speaking honestly, I reacted this way because I was expecting him to respond with some manifestation of homophobia. Whether through Twitter or in real life, the sad truth is that many Black men who portray themselves as being “hard” or “real” often espouse harmful rhetoric towards members of the LGBTQ community. Sometimes this rhetoric even manifests itself as direct violence, especially towards trans women of color.
But Juan did not offer the cringeworthy remark that I was anticipating. Instead he said this: “‘faggot’ is a word people use to make gay people feel bad.”
It was then that I became convinced that Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins with the original screenplay written by Tarrell Alvin McCraney, would be like no other film I had ever seen.
Moonlight will give every member of the audience a lesson in Black male intimacy and depth they never knew they needed—and it’s not limited to sex.
Only time will tell if it will go down as one of the greatest coming of age stories told through film, but its relevance to Black America and current conversations around sexuality, friendships, substance abuse and substance distribution cannot be overstated.
The film accomplished what has rarely been done through cinema: humanizing those who have been discarded by society and deemed the untouchables.
Drug addicts who failed to uphold their responsibilities as parents were portrayed with the nuance they deserve, while drug dealers, often demonized, were fleshed out as full human beings; they were praying men, men who loved their families, men who looked out for young kids who might otherwise be neglected, and men who understood and rejected homophobia.
I recall Chimamanda Adichie’s TedTalk on the danger of a single story, in which she notes that the true problem with stereotypes is that they are incomplete. It was as though, through the film, the sketches of these discarded members of society had now been completed.
But the true beauty of ‘Moonlight’ shone through a depiction of the complex yet remarkably genuine romance between “Black” (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (André Holland.) The connection between the childhood friends was much more than a teenage love affair; it was the exploration of sexuality in the face of violence from the men who were homophobic.
It was a betrayal that cut deep, and the possibility of forgiveness that managed to bleed through.
It was an intimacy that stood on its own two feet and left you on bated breath.
The cinematography seamlessly complemented both McCraney’s brilliant script and the powerful acting exhibited by the cast; the painfully tense silences between the two men will force you to walk through these deeply personal feelings along with them, minute by everlasting minute.
But it was the skillful, yet uncomfortable close-ups that served as a necessary reminder that this story was never about you; only them.
One would be hard pressed to overstate the genuineness that rang through this film. The portrayal of life and love for young, poor, gay Black people is shockingly sans stereotypes; everyone, no matter the extent of social marginalization, gets to be human.
Because of this, watching Moonlight felt less like a pursuit of simple entertainment, and instead, more like an act of healing.
Image via A24 films (promotional image)