Monday, September 12, 2016


Feeling sad, melancholy and/or hopeless on a consistent basis can get exhausting and Moonlight conveys that in my opinion. By the time we get to the second act (the story is told in 3 chapters) our teenage protagonist already looks a little rugged and kind of tired from life already (having a drug addicted mother and getting beat up all the time for being gay can do that to a person).
Part of Barry Jenkins’ excellent sophomore feature (which not only breaks but destroys the sophomore Jinx) owes a little bit to Frank Ocean’s coming out letter from a few years ago on a subconscious level. A big part of Moonlight’s plot has to do with a young African American man ("Chiron") struggling/coming to terms with his sexuality in an environment that isn’t very accepting. Like Ocean, Chiron has feelings for his friend but certain variables won’t allow them to be together. Just take certain excerpts & keywords from Frank Ocean’s letter below and put them next to certain isolated standalone images from Moonlight and you’d think Barry Jenkins was dedicating part of his film to Ocean…

I may be projecting my own assumptions. Barry Jenkins may not have been influenced by that certain specific aspect of Frank Ocean’s life. But the similarities are so strong. Perhaps Jenkins was subconsciously influenced in the same way that David Lynch was subconsciously influenced by the OJ Simpson trial when coming up with Lost Highway.

Moonlight also comes off like a Gus Van Sant film if Gus Van Sant were Black and/or had a true understanding of the frustrated/misunderstood Black American male. Not only does Moonlight deal with homosexuality & sexual identity - like a lot of Van Sant’s films - but the cinematography in Moonlight (and some of the use of music) is very similar to Van Sant’s Elephant

But putting all influences aside, Moonlight is still very much Barry Jenkins' own film. As a filmmaker, Jenkins has grown immensely since Medicine For The Melancholy. Actually, if I wasn’t familiar with Barry Jenkins I would think his two features were directed by two totally different people. What’s most interesting about Jenkins' artistic direction is that Moonlight is set in Miami but we don’t see too many neon lights or pink & green color palettes. This is a side of Miami seldom seen in movies. And it should also be noted that rarely do we see Black skin shot in such a polarizing way. Actually, between the way Black skin is shown along with half of the music used in the film (from Goodie Mob to classic 70's R&B) - Moonlight is unapologetically Black.

In 2016 there are still very few films that tackle genuine frustration & depression among (young) Black men beyond the typical themes that were already over-explored throughout the early/mid 90’s (I’m sure some people could make cases for veterans like Spike Lee, but in the last 15 years his movies have tackled so many issues all at once that it’s hard to grab a hold of one topic). In my opinion, Ballast (2008) was one of the last films to do this but it was still told from the perspective of a white filmmaker. Not that there’s anything wrong with a white filmmaker telling predominantly Black stories (hell…Claire Denis is one of my favorite filmmakers and more than half of her films do that), but there’s something more genuine about a Black man telling a personal story about another Black man (the same thing applies to any other demographic of human being). And that’s what Moonlight is - the story about a (gay) Black man told from the perspective of a Black filmmaker (Jenkins).
No offense to David Gordon Green but watching something like Moonlight made me wish a movie like George Washington was directed by a Black filmmaker...

I encourage any & all Black men to seek out this film if you have the opportunity to do so. I really hope homophobia/ignorance doesn’t stop Black males from seeing this. There’s an underlying hatred for the LGBT community within the so-called conscious Black community when there really shouldn’t be. As I stated in my Toronto excerpt for The Pink Smoke - the current tension/underlying animosity between the so-called conscious Black community and the LGBT movement is nothing new, but it’s prevalent now more than ever (for those that don’t know, the driving forces behind the Black Lives Matter movement are gay men & lesbian women of color). This is reminiscent of the conflict between James Baldwin and certain civil rights leaders & activists. James Baldwin was kind of the living embodiment of that tension in a kind of abstract way. Not only was he a great writer but he was also an advocate & fighter for the civil rights of Black People. But...because he was gay, certain Black leaders wanted him silenced.

Anyway, Moonlight is one the best films I’ve seen all year. If you’re a fan of the aforementioned filmmakers & artist (Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, James Baldwin, etc) I highly recommend it.


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