Moonlight: the slow defeat of Toxic Masculinity
The indie sensation of the year allows Black manhood the luxury of vulnerability and offers a hopeful outlook for masculinity
At 9 years of age, “Little” Chiron finds an unlikely new father figure and starts discovering something about himself. At 16, he explores his queer identity, but finds out the hard way that the world doesn’t like “different”. As an adult, he shelters himself behind a façade of toughness that crumbles at the first external sign of sweetness.
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, one of the most talked-about indie critical hits of the year, flows as easily and swiftly as a poem, allowing the audience quick glances into bigger, more complex realities, that are often only hinted at. Chiron’s world (his addiction-prone mother, his childhood friends and crushes, his unwillingly adoptive family) is seen through the protagonist’s eyes as something that is alternatively sheltering, menacing, puzzling and healing. We, as an audience, experience the doubts that Chiron has to face as well as the slow, often frustrating quest for answers and a place to fit in. Rather than showing the most traumatic events in the character’s life, the three segments of the film show us what happens after, how life goes on despite the trauma and how Chiron’s already fragile state is put in jeopardy by everlasting loss, both physical and spiritual, and doubt, reinforced by what society wants him to be.
But most of all, Moonlight is a persistent parable on what is gained by destroying the threat of Toxic Masculinity, especially Toxic Masculinity among Black men. The concept that the wrongdoings of society can be somehow faced by POC (People Of Colour), and especially by men of color, only by putting on brave, tough faces, has plagued queer POC for decades, and film, especially Hollywood, had never before tried to undermine that concept. Moonlight does just that, allowing its characters a chance at vulnerability and intimacy and the slow discovery that sweetness can be part of a Black man’s life.
That realization, the realization that external layers put on as armour are not eternal and that tenderness is possible at every turn, makes the film inspirational and yet truthful in its graceful restraint. Of course, its open ending allows for some dark foreshadowing, as we rationalize that the mask Chiron is wearing will not completely and painlessly come off, at least not easily and not without more suffering. It is still a world that casts disapproving eyes on vulnerability, a world where being black, female and/or feminine, and queer is seen as a sin. But sometimes offering hopefulness is enough, and Moonlight is among the first major films that create a more hopeful outlook for masculinity, bestowing upon its characters the gifts of tears and cuddles.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writer: Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell McCraney (story)
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner