Moonlit or Backlit
Representation for the sake of representation.
“The Wire”: A cultural obsession with viewing blackness in terms of poverty and crime.
“Orange is the New Black”: Blackness and our cultural obsession with the oversimplification of incarceration.
“Masters of None”: Whiteness as a cultural fetish featuring the voice of a drowning parrot.
“Moonlight”: Upholding portraits of black hyper masculinity entrenched in poverty.
Time and time again in a film and movie industry which touts itself as being liberal, we find ourselves staring at the same uncreative manifestations of racial hierarchies.
When talking about how people of color are represented in the film industry, there tends to be an overarching sentiment, that some representation is better than no representation. There has always been representation of people of color in the media however, it is the lack of quality representation which is free of stereotypical tropes which the film industry struggles with time and time again and which we keep on accepting in our daily consumption of various forms of media.
With that being said, there has been a superficial attempt at throwing Blackness into the media and calling the film industry more inclusive, and claiming it is telling the stories of all people. I find this attempt to simply be an attempt for an attempts sake without really giving characters the complex representations they deserve, and without giving their stories the analytical perspective they are worthy of.
Although this is a little late, it’s better late than never, right? Let’s talk about Moonlight.
While I applaud a film like Moonlight for being made, there are still many areas in which the film presents entrenched ideas about beauty, masculinity, and sexuality. There is an abundance of stereotypical ideas which manifest themselves within the movie. The often-misguided representations which we perpetuate in society and use to generalize groups of people run rampant in the character development and plot of Moonlight.
Moonlight has been praised as being revolutionary in the way which we depict black men in urban environments and their sexuality. If a film is truly going to be labeled as revolutionary and game changing, we must make sure it deserves that high of a praise. However, Moonlight glaringly adheres to the status quo and its depiction of marginalized groups of people.
Moonlight plays as a story which many people want to see, a black repressed gay man. Instead of someone who is able to fully able to come to terms with his sexuality. Repression and showing a lack of acceptance with the backdrop of poverty is something which we have seen before. What would truly be transcending is to see someone going through a positive transition where they not only come into themselves and their sexuality however, for them to show others how to do the same.
The black community and how it deals with homosexuality is layered and filled with nuance. The topic of homosexuality is often challenging and contradictory. People in your community probably know you are gay, but it is not something which is outwardly not discussed by some or even outwardly shunned, especially in religious circles.
As someone who grew up surrounded by people of color, in a Northeastern state, there were many people who were out and gay and who were supported by people around them. There were also people who struggled with their sexuality and continue to do so.
On one side of the coin, homophobic slurs are used to degrade people and promote unhealthy ideas of masculinity however, on the other side of the coin provides a different perspective, one in which people have created their own safe spaces in which they fight for their shot at equal rights.The fact that people of color have often been the ones who have been behind pushing the LGBTQ community is something which is glossed over, even when talking about events such as Stonewall.
If a movie was to really catch me off guard, it would present a story where it was complicated, the setting was complicated and the people were complicated. It would deconstruct and reconstruct my held beliefs, surprise me and cause me to see the human struggle from an unobstructed lens. I would have much rather see a movie about a Black football player artist who has a healthy relationship with a caring non-light skin love interest who struggles with his coming to grips with his sexuality in a community with a strange relationship and attitudes towards sexuality however, has a healthy normal idea about himself, his environment and what he stands for as a person. Something free of stereotypes and simplistic portraits in a community with very diverse perspectives would have challenged my perceptions about what filmmakers are willing to create on screen. But that’s just me. I am still waiting for that movie to be made, but we can all hope, right? Call me if you want to talk about making this movie.’ll be waiting teaching does not pay enough and I have student loans, be a revolutionary and help a sister out.
Also, on a random note fatherless black homes and crack head mothers, not over done is it? In order to make a character tragic, we can’t just have a regular old working mom? That is not tragic enough for people, or is it too real for people?
Anyone who has grown up in America knows that colorism is an issue which still plagues the Black community. Beauty is often defined by features which are considered to be more Eurocentric features. Moonlight cannot seem to escape problematic ideas of colorism or going for a redbone. *Cough cough Childish Gambino*
The main characters love interest, is of a lighter complexion, the mother, lighter complexion, the one woman who cared for Chiron, lighter complexion. In a movie centered in a Black community there is limited representation of characters with darker skin.
What seems to make this even worse is you have his love interest who goes around calling Chiron Black. Now was this intentional, was it intended to be offensive, who knows? But when you have someone who is light for the Black community, calling Chiron Black, reduces him to a color, and that is troublesome to me. Chiron grows to embrace the name later on in his story. The character lets himself be reduced to this one term, this one word, black, letting his humanity be erased and replacing it with an outer exterior which plays the shallow role of the aggressive hyper masculine, drug dealing black man. This character development alone, is something which I have trouble praising and viewing as transcendent.
Moonlight almost feels like it was made for an audience who likes to look upon their Black characters as stereotypical tropes instead of intricate human beings who live, love and grow in the most complex of ways. Moonlight indulges tropes about thuggish, poor, Black men who are hyper masculine, where there are no spaces for the acceptance of black men in the anywhere outside of these hyper-masculine circles.
The writers of the movie have spoken out about their experiences growing up and have based Moonlight on some of their own experiences thus, I do not want to take away from what some people have felt or experienced growing up. We have all had different experiences and different truths, we all see things from different perspectives and come to different conclusions. However, Moonlight for me was not the movie with the depth which I wanted it to have. It fell into many traps which we see over and over again with how we talk about poverty, masculinity, homosexuality, and the depiction of black men. I like the direction which film has moved in I am glad we are opening up as a society but, Moonlight was not quite something which I can walk away from and say its depictions of Black people as humans and the struggle of people of color in the LGBTQ community was fully constructed.
I hope that we can continue to move in the right direction, and I hope that we can continue to push film towards the construction of characters who do not have the traces of a distant unobservant eye viewing them from a prisim which continues to distort their humanity.