The Portrayal Of Intersectionality In The Film Moonlight

‘Moonlight’ by Barry Jenkins, is the first Black film with an all-Black cast to win in the 2017 Oscars. The film provides light to the struggles of being Black and gay in today’s society. The success of the film is due to the new perspective of a black gay men rather than the white heteronormative perspective that dominates the media. The film portrays a different perspective to the LGBTQ community as they are often marginalized and silenced in film. Intersectionality is the relationship between different categories such as race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. that creates experiences of discrimination (Valentine, 2007). A constant theme in Moonlight is the black male identity and its intersections with sexuality and class through the character Chiron. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight examines how Chiron; a poor gay black man navigates through heteronormative spaces in different stages of his life. I will argue Chiron’s intersectional identity is shaped by his surroundings this includes his mother, his peers, and his neighborhood.

Moonlight captures Chiron’s experience as a gay black male from a young age to an adult. During the first stage of Moonlight, young Chiron is portrayed as a quiet and reserved child due to the emotional and physical abuse he experiences from his community and his mother. Chiron has difficulty fitting in with his peers and is beaten up because he is perceived gay and does not perform black masculinity normally. As a child, he fully doesn’t understand his identity but is put into a box and considered “soft” because he doesn’t fit the standards of masculinity. Society has dictated that who he is as a person is not welcome or accepted. His intersectionality creates different systems of oppression (Valentine, 2007) .The negative, abusive, and homophobic space Chiron grows up in affects his identity and forces him to repress himself and his sexuality as he develops into adulthood. Although Chiron experiences in his community is destructive he has positive relationships with Juan and Kevin that help him embrace himself and accept his sexuality. Juan, a local drug dealer, runs into Chiron when he’s hiding from some bullies and takes him in and ultimately becomes his father figure. Kevin is Chiron’s childhood friend who teaches him to stick up for himself and who also becomes his first love. Chiron’s impactful relationships with these black males help him accept his intersectional identity

Juan, Chiron’s surrogate father, performs masculinity defiantly as he shows Chiron kindness and empathy but he presents certain traits that allow him to be considered masculine such as his muscularity and that he is a drug dealer. Chiron in his youth is marginalized for not being as masculine as his peers. He is easily influenced by people and allows people to define him. He has to learn how to build his identity along the margins of sexuality and race in a non-accepting environment. Chiron struggles with how he should act and behave in hyper masculine space. From a young age, he understands black masculinity from surroundings and knows he is not that. In the third stage of the film, we see Chiron follow in the footsteps of Juan and has adopted his demeanor. His experiences of imprisonment has changed him from a gentle nature to hyper masculine. He has adapted into the heteronormative idea of what black men should be and look like. Chiron takes on this hyper masculine persona to divert from his sexuality as well as to protect himself in a homophobic society.

Chiron grows up in Liberty City, low income neighborhood in Miami during crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s. He surrounded by poverty and experience drugs and its effects first hand through his mother. Chiron is neglected and forced to take care of himself at a very young age, which is the reality for many kids who grow in low income. His low-class neighborhood forms his identity, as young boy and teen because of his differences he is persecuted for not behaving masculine. All the torment and abuse he faces makes him assault his bully and he lands himself in prison. In the third act of Moonlight, Chiron transforms into what the black men from his neighborhood look and behave like. He has transformed into a reincarnation of Juan, he picks up his demeanor and physique and drops his “soft” characteristics. Chiron moves to Atlanta and becomes the only thing he knows, a drug dealer. His upbringing, surrounded by drug dealing and impoverishment, has led him to his current self. His intersectional identity has been repressed his whole life due to the closed space he can’t escape himself from.

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight captures the experience of gay black man living in a low-income neighborhood and the things he endures in heteronormative society. Chiron is shaped by his surroundings from the people to neighborhood. He absorbs everything from his childhood from living in poverty, experiences of drug, ideas of masculinity, and the abuse he endures all shape him as a person especially as a gay black man. Growing up in Liberty City, Miami, Chiron is taught to believe being black and gay are mutually exclusive but from his relationships with Juan and Kevin he accepts that he can be both and accepts his intersectional identity. The portrayal of intersectionality in Moonlight is very important to show there are multifaceted people who struggle to be accepted in a heteronormative society.     

16 December 2021
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