The Film Moonlight Tells The Story
The film Moonlight tells the story of Chiron who is an African American living in a rough neighbourhood of Miami. As a child Chiron, nicknamed ‘Little’ is bullied and treated like an outcast by his age-mates at school. He has little social life since he does not have many friends, he, however, develops a friendship with Kevin who keeps him company and offers solace from the school bullies (Jenkins). At first, he does not understand why he is treated differently by other boys, but he later comes to know it is because of his sexuality. Chiron eventually develops an unlikely friendship with Juan who sells crack. In time, Juan morphs into a father figure to Chiron. Juan’s character contrasts with what would be typically be expected of a drug dealer; he is kind, patient and caring to Chiron. Though Chiron’s mother does not seem to like Juan, presumably due to his reputation as someone who sells drugs, Juan and Teresa offer Chiron stability and safety even when his mother is too incapacitated to fulfill her duties (Jenkins).
The relationship between Juan and Chiron eventually has a deep and lasting effect on Chiron’s future. Juan insists to Chiron that he is in charge of his destiny and he must decide what he must become in future. Later on in the film, Chiron has a sexual encounter with his friend Kevin confirming that he is indeed gay. The two boys later lose contact once Chiron goes to jail, but they reunite at the end of the film (Jenkins). This paper will seek to use the lens of intersectionality theory to look into the different identities of the major characters in the film and how these are present in various themes present in the movie.
Intersectionality starts with the premise that all people have lives that consist of multiple coexisting identities. These identities are formed because of how society interacts, history and the various structures of power that affect such people. The different identities include race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. The interconnected nature of these aspects contributes to discriminated people having distinct outlooks on oppression and privilege (Carastathis, 304). Importantly, intersectionality should not be understood in the terms that the different identities, when combined, increase the oppression but rather the linking of these identities, communities or systems produces experiences that can be taken to be similar or different among the oppressed (Carastathis, 310). Due to the interlinking of these identities, some individuals or groups might encounter more oppression than others. For example, a black man who was born into a middle-class family will encounter different forms of oppression or privilege as compared to a black man who was born to a home with a single parent. Though the black middle-class man may be considered privileged, he will encounter the same oppression that the man from a single parent home encounters by being black.
Commonly, people tend to have a false binary view of issues that allow people to view issues that lead to oppression as purely being one against but using intersectionality this tendency is mitigated (Hunting et al., 109). This theory allows one to acknowledge the unique contexts and qualitative aspects of oppression, justice, and discrimination. Intersectionality has the advantage of being simultaneous and complex (Carastathis, 307). Simultaneity acknowledges oppression and discrimination may be present due to different identities such as race, class, and sexuality (Holvino, 13). Complexity means that it takes into account the relationships between people within a social group and the relationship between distinct or related social groups (Carastathis, 307).
Since he was young and in school, Chiron was an outcast and was picked on by other kids because he was different. Only later did he find out that he was different from the other boys because he was gay. Due to homophobia or general ignorance in society, people who are gay, lesbian or transgender are likely to encounter intolerance, discrimination, and harassment from the majority of people who are heterosexual. There exists a varying level of stigma surrounding homosexuality (Subhrajit, 320). In the case of Chiron, he is stigmatised at school because his schoolmates think he is a ‘faggot,’ Chiron himself is doubtful and but when he asks Juan he consoles him that though he may be gay, he is not a ‘faggot’ because the term is only meant to be derogatory (Jenkins). Discrimination and marginalization have a marked effect on the lives of lesbian, gay and transgender persons. Such persons may lack social support such as in the manner Chiron did not have many friends. Homosexual people are also more likely to have drug problems, discipline issues, and low self-esteem but Chiron might have avoided some of this problems because he had a father figure in Juan (Roggermans et al. 255). Unfortunately, Chiron followed Juan’s footsteps and became a drug dealer. If Chiron had a father at home, he probably would not have had to align himself with Juan.
Race also plays a role in the film. The major characters in the film are all African Americans. African Americans have historically been marginalized in America. They are more likely to be live in poverty and neighborhoods with high crime rates and drug problems (Riphagen, 112). In this instance, Chiron lives in a poor neighbourhood where even kids of school going age are exposed to people and situations that might put them at risk of drug abuse or engaging in the illegal drug business. As such, drug use among African Americans plays a major role in the film. Chiron’s mother eventually becomes a drug addict who cannot care for her son and Chiron resorts to seeking refuge at Juan’s home. Though it would have been desirable for Chiron to have a mother who did not use drugs, the drug usage allows more interaction between Chiron and Juan who holds his hand in life. In the African American society, drug use is associated with economic hardships and trouble in the home setting (Horton, 1). Chiron himself, later on, becomes a drug dealer later on after he leaves juvenile jail which he was sent after he injured someone in school. One identity might lead another to be open to falling into another one. For example, having scarce economic resources and the following incarceration played a part in turning Chiron into a drug dealer.
Per the intersectionality theory, Chiron occupies different identities at the same time (Carastathis, 307). Each of these identities means that he is oppressed in different ways. Since he is not a gay person one day and a black American the next day, he is bound to experience the unique aspects of each identity simultaneously. Other characters in the film can also be viewed through the lens of intersectionality. Paula is not only a single mother, but she is also a black American woman who eventually also becomes a drug user. Though not explicitly stated, one identity might have played a role in making her more vulnerable the drug abuse.
In a particularly interesting scene, Juan teaches Chiron to swim (Jenkins). This scene is important in that it shows the tender side of Juan and it also serves as a metaphor to the waves and troubles that Chiron must overcome in life. Additionally, water is significant because it is present both when Chiron washes his face after a fight and when he has his first sexual experience with Kevin at the beach. Moonlight also uses colours to express different characters and their identities. The colour blue, which was also Juan’s nickname once, symbolizes the relationship between Juan and Chiron. Blue is also present in the relationship between Kevin and Chiron as their romantic encounter takes place by the ocean.
Through the artistic portrayal of the characters and the plot of the film, the audience gets to see what black Americans and gay people go through in a society that can be oppressive and ignorant at times. It is clear that people experience different realities depending on the factors present in their life such as race, sexuality, and class. Though we may not be able to change people’s identities, society would benefit if we were all more mindful of each other and hence avoid adding to the oppression and discrimination. By analyzing societal issues through intersectionality, we can realize that though people such as gays or African Americans might experience the same problems, these problems are unique to each depending on the various identities that such a person occupies.