Moonlight isn't a film about poverty, or drug use, or relationships, or sexuality, or growing up gay, just like our lives aren't solely defined by one thing. It's about the complexity of sexual/identity politics and the reclamation of agency within that realm. It's about the human experience. Moonlight explores the concepts of masculinity, race, and sexuality and how these things define Chiron during the three stages of his life. The movie revolves around a young Black man named Chiron, which focuses on his life in three different phases, growing older as each one passes. It shows his struggle to define, disguise and ultimately accept his sexuality in the deprived neighborhoods of Miami and touches upon issues of identity, coming of age, family and romantic attachment. Chiron represses his identity as being gay and tries to "regulate" his behavior, but his efforts are in vain. Bullies at his school and his mother persecute him for being gay, and he endures their harassment throughout his school career. He faces homophobic attitudes where he lives and grows up, and his very identity is ridiculed. The plot follows Chiron through a journey of self-discovery, relationships, and challenges as he slowly comes into himself, his sexuality, and his identity.
Throughout the film, Jenkins leads his audience to understand and relate to the many factors that inform each character's actions and choices. He presents nonlinear depictions of their personalities, and in doing so, he forces his audience to empathize and understand with them on their terms. Teenage Chiron is mocked by his peers and beginning to understand and at struggle with how his desires and sense of self of who he is. Adult Chiron was now known as "Black," is introduced as a towering representation of masculinity, and in the process of rebuilding his own identity from the ground up. The film touches on what it means to be a man or to perform masculinity. An example is when Kevin is peer-pressured by Chiron's bullies in class to beat him up at school one day. Kevin does so, to keep up his image of being a man and to keep his masculinity. It also shows the realities that many of them face, whether it is confronting toxic masculinity, living in a marginalized community in poverty as a gay Black man, being "othered" and all the gendered and sexualized violence that they face for simply being themselves.
Masculinity and Hegemony
Black men are especially held to this masculine standard, even hyper-masculine standards. Hegemonic masculinity according to Theresa Rajack-Talley is the culturally dominant form of masculinity in any given setting (Theresa Rajack138). Hegemony is the dominance of a social group which created through cultural imperialism. Moonlight portrayed hegemony in the supremacy of the culture against people being gay. In Moonlight, we see hegemonic masculinity at play, one that punishes homosexual, masculinity and the feminine. Theresa Rajack-Talley, also describes that masculinity is something that exists on a hierarchy, much like race, as well as the idea of masculine identities not being fixed (Theresa Rajack-Talley 142), thus making masculinity a social construct. Men performing hegemonic masculinity see homosexuality and the feminine as threats to their fragile masculinity, thus warranting the violent behavior that we see in the movie towards Chiron.
While growing up, Chiron becomes isolated as he grows up after which Chiron becomes adopted because of his movements and the body language. Chiron acts as a black male to be able to fit in by performing as a bright man. The Moonlight largely showcases that identities are created socially and the Moonlight builds on the aspect that gender is performed and not inherent and showcases the ability of media to rule over sexuality and racial groups. The Moonlight showcases masculinity as a rigid scale to measure aggressiveness, emotions, and inflexibility of manhood. Males are supposed according to the African American culture to be bold which is depicted in how Chiron overcome his nature as a gay man by being rigid and courageous even in the face of the worst predicaments. Kevin who is Chiron friend also emphasizes the theme of sexuality in the film by appearing to be a masculine guy even in how he chooses his words when describing women with the aim of hiding his sexuality to avoid being ridiculed like Chiron who was unable to hide his sexuality.
The hegemony in the African American culture forces Chiron when he is older to conform to the ideal masculine identity to avoid being abused by those around him. The film Moonlight shows that the black culture prevailing views against gay which can deny a child the love of a mother for choosing a non-heteronormative sexual identity. The intolerance of the black culture of gay people shows a strength hegemonic cultural attitude that only identify and recognize straight males (Traber 24). After a life of ridicule, Chiron gives in to hegemonic cultural pressure and embraces being a stereotypical black male after which he becomes masculine and wears grill as a drug dealer. The new identity assumed by Chiron due to cultural hegemony of the black people is very different from the person he was previously. In his new stereotypical masculine character, Chiron is not vulnerable again, and he wears a cultural code that is expected of him per the black culture.
In the Moonlight, there is a strict association of movements with sexuality and gender which makes it easy to label people as straight or gay based on their body shape and movements. Hegemony can be achieved in non-conformist and self-sovereign situations where the culture dictates the behavior of the characters (Traber 25). Hegemony in the film Moonlight is evident when Chiron is unable to retain an independent identity and is forced to maintain an approved masculine character that identifies with African Americans. Chiron is obliged to regulate his behavior to avoid being gay and adopt a more masculine character per the black cultural hegemony.
Moonlight narrates the journey of Chiron to self-discovery and the obstacles in place set by the masculine and hegemony of the black culture which restricts individual identity through stereotypes and reinforced by the community ridicule in the case of Chiron. Chiron in the first phase of his life can express his gay personality which turns badly for him due to rejection by his mother and the community which has a strict masculine identity for men which forces Chiron to conform at the end. Chiron's friend Kevin has a masculine character, and unlike Chiron, he is not subjected to ridicule and bullying. Hegemony in the film is depicted by how Chiron is forced to hide his true identity and assume a masculine identity and the negative response towards his gay identity in the first phase. As such, the film shows that the community based on stereotypes can be able to reinforce the identities of individuals.
"Living Racism." Edited by Theresa Rajack-Talley and Derrick R. Brooms,
Google Books, books.google.com
Traber, Daniel S. "Hegemony and the Politics of Twain's Protagonist/Narrator Division in" Huckleberry Finn."" South Central Review 17.2 (2000): 24-46.
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