Moonlight: Influences on the Formation of Protagonist’s Identity
Moonlight – a movie directed by Barry Jenkins was one of the most beautiful and heart – wrenching masterpiece that I have ever seen. The film is set in Miami in 1980s, the peak ages when abject poverty, drug addiction, violence and social degradation occurred frequently among African Americans. Moonlight follows Chiron, a black, gay boy who is on his own adventure of figuring out “Who is he?” The movie is divided in three chapters, also three stages of Chiron’s life, in which he forms his identity. In this reflection, I would love to share my own views about the protagonist’s major features as well as some personal and social forces that exert enormous influences on his identity formation, following his three stages of life.
In the first chapter “i. little”, we are introduced to a shy, little, vulnerable Chiron who finds it difficult to fit into the community where he lives. Being born to an addicted mother who fails to give him care and affection, Chiron seems to be neglected, alone, and he barely communicates with other people. The only thing we can learn from this boy is that he is constantly being called “faggot” and bullied by his friends. I can see that Chiron is struggling with his self-identity and sex orientation. He is labelled “a faggot” without his full understanding of that word’s meaning. This can be shown when he befriends Juan, a drug dealer who acts as a mentor for Chiron. In a conversation between them, Chiron asks Juan “what’s a faggot?” and weather he is a faggot or not. These questions reveals that Chiron hardly has any clue about his own identity and sexuality. Juan, in reply, says “You could be gay, but you’re gotta let nobody call you a faggot.” Through his answer, I realize that Juan is the very first person that helps Chiron develop a sense of knowledge and self-respect. Also, it is Juan who tells Chiron that “at some point, you got to decide for yourself who you’re going to be.” Juan is the first stranger that Chiron has a conversation with, and since “identity is created through communication”, I believe that Juan’s advice partly helps Chiron clear up the confusions of his true self. It is their relationship that serves as a base for who Chiron will become in the future.
In the second chapter, “ii. Chiron”, Chiron has now become a high school teenager, but still fragile, sensitive, and finds trouble in fitting in. At this stage, everyone, including him, is aware of his homosexuality. Since he fails to fit the criteria of being tough, cold, and hostile that the society creates for an African American man, he continues to be the victim of bullying. This is just like the concept of “Othering”. He is shunned and regarded as inferior just because he is different from others. Living in a society that gives prominence to hyper-masculinity seems like a big hurdle that Chiron can never overcome. However, despite being an outcast from the society, there is still one person who does not abandon him, that is his childhood friend, Kevin. Kevin turns out to be gay as Chiron, and their sexual experience on the beach seems like an assurance for Chiron that he is still accepted for his true nature. The climax of this chapter happens when Chiron picks up a chair and smashes it over the head of his tormentor. This scene gives me a feeling that Chiron is no longer afraid of his self-identity and starts fighting for it. His revenge, however, ends up putting him into jail. This event makes me think that Chiron, no matter how hard he tries to be himself, is still excluded from the place that he calls “home”. It appears that this is the reason for his identity changing in the 3rd chapter.
The final chapter is named “iii. Black”. Here we see a brand new Chiron who is virtually unrecognizable. His new appearance is a complete 180 from that of little Chiron. The new Chiron now meet all the required standards of a truly black man. He is tall, robust, solid and muscular. Hardly anyone can expect him to be a gay who used to be bullied and socially excluded. This physical transformation makes me wonder whether Chiron is trying to conceal his true self. It appears that somehow Chiron is refusing his natural identity and trying to conform to the socially constructed stereotype. This can be shown through the fact that Chiron has turned into a second Juan, an ideal model for black men: he follows Juan’s footsteps to become a drug dealer, he dresses very similar to him. This details indicates that Chiron has given up his gay lifestyle and adopts the one that seems to be dominant in the society. It is the ideology for blackness that forces him to reject his personal identity. Also in this chapter, we see the reunion between Chiron and Kevin. As Chiron tells Kevin that “You’re the only man that’s ever touched me”, it seems likes Chiron refuses to touch any other men or let them touch him because he is afraid that only a small touch can make his homosexuality (the truth he tries to hide) reappear. The film ends with a scene of Chiron being in Kevin’s arms again. Through this detail, I believe the relationship between Chiron and Kevin, their interaction and communication, will be the factor that allows Chiron’s true identity to re-emerge again.
It is never easy for people to find out who they are, and when they can finally manage to figure out their true identity, they try to reject it just because the society does not accept it. However, as Kevin said, since he no longer “do what folks thought what I should be doing”, he “ain’t got no worries.” His sayings means to me that after all, we should respect our true self because this will give us a sense of freedom and serenity.
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