Sunday, April 02, 2017

Barry Jenkins: 'Moonlight' (2016)

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight (2016), based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue (2003). Set mostly in Florida (plus Atlanta) and divided into three sections (Little, Chiron, Black), Moonlight, made on a relatively tiny budget, is intensely poetic, much more like an independent international film than a traditional American Hollywood movie. 

Moonlight can be approached from multiple angles, including race/ethnicity, poverty, sexual orientation, gender roles, cultural attitudes, existential philosophy and more. However, because so many of these have already been discussed elsewhere, here I'd like to consider another theme of the film: isolation vs. connection. 

Maybe because it's set along the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida, I think of Howard Thurman (1899-1981) when he was growing up just a little north of where Moonlight is mostly set, but during the Jim Crow era. In Moonlight, the main character (Chiron) is isolated by circumstance: his mother is a menace, school brutes are a menace, he is falling through the social cracks; with Howard Thurman, white society at large was the principal menace. 

In order to survive and function, let alone thrive, one must be connected to another person or other people. Howard's father died when he was very young, but, despite being poor, other relatives helped him enough that he could begin his own arc; for him, libraries (and librarians) became his bedrock for hope. Once he began reading in earnest, and with the kindness of strangers, he was able to become his own person, despite the obstacles of Jim Crow. Howard Thurman went on to become a mystical philosopher, education and civil rights leader, author and co-founder of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco in 1944, still in existence.

Chiron, in Moonlight, has to go it more alone, but it is mainly because of the intervention and kindness of characters like Juan, Teresa and Kevin that he can nurture a modest hope for his own arc. 

Social isolation is such a tragic, fearful position to be in that even small gestures of kindness are magnified. 

Still, given how much his school seems to neglect him, and his mother, I wish Chiron could have found refuge in a library, where he would have found additional support in the same way that Howard Thurman had. But he does, at least, find some connection, and that's a start.

Because the US (and much of the rest of the world) still has so many fearful hangups about sexual orientation, specifically, and sexuality in general, Moonlight is highly important not only as its own story, but for its ability to boost consciousness raising and awareness, especially unto those feeling isolated, letting all who see it know they are not alone in the world, no matter how restricted their initial life situation may be. It is a profound reminder, too, for those who are socially well-connected, to reach out and be kind, to welcome those who are feeling left out in the cold. 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've not heard of this. I wonder if any theaters down here show these movies.