‘Moonlight’ shows the struggles of being poor, black and gay

A review of Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins

12106970_10206899552841684_6499658384430964503_n By Branna Calloway

October 22, 2016

Produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, Moonlight is a poignant study on the search for finding your own truth and defining yourself. It speaks to the lengths some young black men have to go to find suitable role models in lives sometimes littered with drugs and violence. The film offers a bold glimpse into the fight to survive as an outsider in the smaller less-privileged communities where the protagonist comes of age.

We are introduced to a nine-year-old Chiron, derogatorily nicknamed “Little” by the other boys in his neighborhood. Chiron is stuck between a beat-down crew of his peers and a single mother (a stellar Naomie Harris) who doesn’t have the time to deal with his problems because she’s struggling under the weight of her own demons. Where can a little boy who doesn’t quite fit in run to for refuge in a world that’s proven itself out for his blood?

Alex Hibbert as child Chiron “Little” courtesy of A24

Under Barry Jenkins’ direction, Moonlight plays more like a deeply personal video essay showing Chiron’s journey through a series of vignettes. Like when “Little” finally meets a friend in Kevin, another boy also trying to find his place, but not suffering under the intense self-questioning and scrutiny as young Chiron, played superbly by Alex Hibbert. Kevin (Jaden Piner) blows in like a breeze of fresh air and helps deflect some of the deep seriousness that surrounds Chiron. He tries to show Chiron how to survive on an open field after a game of football by just being one of the boys and never letting them think you’re soft.

It’s hard to know what soft even means when you’re just a kid that feels different but can’t articulate exactly what that means. In the home of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer from Cuba who rescues him from a bullying incident, Chiron finds the courage to ask several important questions, including … “How do I know if I’m gay?” Teresa (singer Janelle Monae), Juan’s girlfriend answers softly, “You know when you know.”

Trevante Rhodes as adult Chiron “Black” courtesy of A24.

Aside from a need for better transitions between the vignettes, Moonlight is raw, vulnerable, and gripping in its portrayal. Offering a portal into this young man’s experience, you feel Chiron’s suffocation as keenly as he does, to the point that it becomes so thick at times that he can’t even speak. The search for home in an unwelcoming world is something a lot of black men deal with on a daily basis. What Moonlight shows is how the struggle becomes even harder when you’re poor, black and gay.

Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Read next: 

In this article