The film Moonlight had its release date in 2016, directed by Barry Jenkins. It is both a controversial movie and an insightful drama about coming of age. The major actors involved in the movie include Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monae, and Naomie Harris (Sexton 173). The film is essential to the audiences within the age bracket of 18 to 45 years because it explains the three stages of the life and development of the main character: teenage years, early adulthood, and middle adulthood. Furthermore, the film critically highlights how the protagonist endures challenges regarding his sexuality. The emotional destruction, social abuse, and physical issues that the main character struggles with are crucial for the plot development of Moonlight (Internet Movie Database). The major part of the film has its setting in Florida, Miami, at the commencement of 2015. The movie had its premiere in 2016 during the Telluride Film Festival. This paper explores the scene at the beach in the Moonlight and thoroughly demystifies how the themes of black masculinity, water, and intersection of vulnerability and masculinity correlate to this scene.
The subject of water in Moonlight dominates the scene at the beach. Water has been objectified as a cleansing agent and a medium for marking the transformation of an individual in this film. Chiron is witnessed interacting with water everywhere, whether he goes splashing the water or diving in the ocean at the beach (Sexton 173). Moreover, during times that mark the transformation of this character in the movie, water has been symbolically manifested. At times of emotional constraint and hardship, Chiron opts to either take a bath or swim to find self-comfort. For instance, when the mother is not at home, he chooses to shower and feel better emotionally, while at the beach Chiron swims with Juan to create enjoyment (Internet Movie Database). Indeed, when Juan teaches him how to interact with ocean waves and how to swim efficiently, Chiron rises to the occasion and displays how water is a symbolic component in African livelihood. On the contrary, the element of water in the scene at the beach is a manifestation that water could be either beauty or resistance on the one hand, or it could be a place for exploitation and social inequality on the other hand. For example, Tinsley says that “black queerness itself becomes a crosscurrent through which to view hybrid, resistant subjectivities, and perhaps black queers have no ancestry except the black water” (Sexton 10). Therefore, water at the beach creates two possibilities regarding the life of Chiron; it could either make him or mess him up, but in most of the cases, water brings him positive consequences and helps cope with his daily challenges.
The scene at the beach in the movie Moonlight also brings forth the aspect of the intersection of vulnerability, masculinity, and blackness. Indeed, the movie thrives on the elements of blackness and masculinity and their portrayal of the vulnerability of the witness to social challenges. While at the beach, the interaction between Juan and Chiron primarily focuses on black identity. While commenting on Chiron, Juan asserts, “There are black people everywhere. Remember that, okay? No place you can go in the world ain’t got no black people. We were the first on this planet” (Sexton 173). Therefore, Juan relates to black identity as the background of the story. Moreover, Juan shows that his present is directly linked to and informed by his past with the African identity when he says that someone told him in his teenage years that “in the moonlight, black boys look blue” (Internet Movie Database). The director of Moonlight presents the identity of blackness as a feature of an inferior class of people whose place in the social continuum is faced with defeat and fear. At some point Chiron is compromised to let go of his identity of “Blue” so that he could identify with another dime attached to his name for the rest of his life (Internet Movie Database). The scene at the beach is one among many that portrays Chiron as a vulnerable individual, especially during his interaction with Kevin. Typically, the identities of blue and black are closely associated occurrences in the movie, and the climax at the beach is a clear show that the two are socially compromised identities. Therefore, the scene at the beach symbolizes black vulnerability and toughness to overcome challenges. Through the character of Chiron, the audience learns that a black race in the American continuum is viewed as weak, and hence one has to work harder than usual to overcome the social pressure and emerge stronger and more determined, just as Chiron finally becomes a dominant masculine figure in the scene at the beach.
The subject of masculinity among black people is also explored in the scene at the beach because the director goes to great lengths to discuss why Chiron chose to manipulate his original identity. The scene manifests that there are communities within the mainstream society that do not have the authority and autonomy that other communities enjoy. Therefore, individuals from the stereotyped weak communities have to use other social maneuvers to be seen as influential stakeholders of the mainstream culture. In the context of the scene at the beach, black males would typically try to use masculinity to live up to the expectations of the society. Therefore, within the patriarchal setting, like that in which Chiron and Juan try to survive, one has to show their masculinity to be counted as good enough and worth a mention for social dignity.
The scene at the beach in the movie Moonlight portrays masculinity as an aggressive and at the same time rigid behavior manifestation among black people. Those in their teenage years like Chiron are directly tagged by their struggle with social identification through highlighting peer masculinity. Therefore, the society and peers can only realize, recognize, embrace, and appreciate black males who dominate in the social category of masculine personalities. The society and the social construct does not identify with vulnerable black males who do not display any kind of masculinity (Internet Movie Database). Furthermore, black males cannot possibly be conceived as gay people, as has been seen in the scene at the beach. Those who are gay are termed to be weak; hence, they have no social identity with the black community. The society judges them harshly because of not being straight, and hence one misses out on a “membership” in a masculine faction if one is a black male in the film Moonlight (Internet Movie Database). Consequently, at the beach, Chiron has to identify with the masculine black males in order to hide his black gay tag so that he can survive the social discrimination of effeminate individuals. Just like Chiron, Kevin, another important character, is forced to hide his sexuality as a young person in order to survive the social ridicule those of his caliber suffer from in the public space. Furthermore, homophobia is a serious social challenge black males face, and it is only proper for Chiron to identify with heterosexuality in his adulthood to avoid any confounding presentations that could deny him the revered masculine tag. Finally, Chiron chooses to become a drug dealer and a masculine personality to be able to enjoy the stereotypical label of an ideal black male.
In conclusion, the scene at the beach in the movie Moonlight primarily shows how black vulnerability is palpable in mainstream society. Chiron, Juan, and Kevin are the symbolic mirrors through which the aspect of black masculinity is portrayed as vulnerable. The scene at the beach shows that for one to overcome the social challenges as a black male, they have to overemphasize their masculinity, an experience that can easily become toxic in the social continuum if moderation is not embraced. The risk that black males run is that they boycott being nurtured or being caressed. Hence they expressly resort to being gritty, rough, and socially acceptable, just like Juan. The experience at the beach between Kevin, Juan, and Chiron also shows how the latter does not conform to being caressed, allowing the audience to see the display of an aggressive and intolerant black masculine male. Typically, the film Moonlight and its scene at the beach are a critical manifestation of the vulnerability black males suffer from as far as masculinity is concerned.
“Official Trailer from Moonlight (2016).” IMDb, 11 Feb. 2018, www.imdb.com/title/tt4975722/videoplayer/vi2537731865. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019.
Sexton, Jared. Black Masculinity and the Cinema of Policing. Springer, 2017, ISBN 3319661701, 9783319661704, 2017. Web.