Moonlight cannot be characterized simply. One could say it’s a movie that goes through the motions of growing up as an African-American subject to poverty, mass incarceration, and drug culture. Another would voice that it’s a tragic love story in which relationships are challenged, as seen with the relationship between our protagonist Chiron and his drug-dependent mother; as well as the relationship between Chiron and Kevin that was kept secret due to conservative and homophobic societal norms. There is much to be said about Moonlight, but my attention is directed towards the film’s ability to continue the conversation and my analysis of Global South literature.
Moonlight challenges a variety of stereotypes, specifically the drug lord Juan who controlled not only the crack business but the project neighborhood it operated in. Juan is represented as thoughtful, caring, and protective, and these characteristics are not commonly associated with our typical conception of drug lords. Juan was more of a parental figure to Chiron than Chiron’s own mother, and he was never shown smoking crack. In light of this, I am reminded of Faulkner’s Go Down Moses because it explores a notion of racial misunderstanding. Faulkner so cleverly exploited the misguided attitudes of the white Americans and their inability to acknowledge, accept, or understand the positionality of African-Americans. Moonlight does something very similar by revealing that these negative stereotypes upheld in society are not entirely true; it reminds us that people, no matter their profession, are still very much people.
Moonlight also challenges social norms about masculinity. Kevin, aware of his sexual orientation towards men, behaved in response to how his peers wanted him to act. He would brag about the women he slept with and he even aggressively attacked Chiron, despite having an intimate relationship with him. Unfortunately, Chiron’s sexual identity affected how others viewed him and he grew up with the intent to recreate himself as “tough” because his peers always saw him as “soft” when he was younger. Much of the Global South literature I’ve read has touched on masculinity and sexuality, especially The Sound and the Fury with Quentin still being a virgin when society would expect otherwise.
Stylistically, Moonlight travels through time, signified by chapter breaks. Chiron would also dream throughout the movie, and we’d flashback to previous moments with his mother. On the surface this is very similar to Faulkner, and whether this was done with the same intent, doesn’t matter much. Overall, the transition through time reveals how childhood trauma can carry over into adulthood. With that being said, the effects of trauma have been discussed in all the Global South literature I’ve read. Trauma, however, also carries on from one generation to the next. To this day, we still suffer the consequences of the 13th Amendment that advocated for the mass incarceration of African Americans. Moonlight explicitly reveals the negative impact the mass incarceration system can have on an individual who doesn’t belong in a corrupt system of violence. In this case, we see the intermingling of History with personal histories, and how trauma lives on.
Watch the Official Trailer here: