The film Moonlight takes viewers on a journey through Chiron’s difficult life as he struggles with his self-identity and his sexual identity. Moonlight displays how Chiron, a black male living in Miami, is affected by society’s expectations of masculinity. The film highlights that society’s pressure to fit in can damage a person’s sense of identity. The film is divided into three parts. Each part of the film reveals the struggles of Chiron to figure out who he is during different times of his life.
Each part is important for analyzing Chiron’s struggle to truly be himself, despite society’s view on black masculinity.
Section 1 of the film illustrates Chiron’s struggles as a young child to figure out where he fits in.This chapter in Chiron’s life is called “little.” During this section of the film, viewers see that Chiron has a difficult home life. He lives in poverty, and his mother is a drug addict who seems to neglect Chiron by barely being present in his life.
In addition, Chiron is harassed and bullied emotionally and physically by his peers. The opening scene captures young Chiron running away from a group of peers who are chasing him.
Chiron runs to an abandoned house to seek safety from the bullies. The camera zooms in on young Chiron sitting on the floor of an abandoned house, and this allows viewers to see the fear and pain in Chiron’s face. At this point in the film, viewers can already see that Chiron is considered an outcast in his community.
This representation of Chiron as an outcast comes from his peers believing he is too soft. Luckily, a man named Juan follows Chiron into the building and rescues him from the bullies.
Juan takes Chiron home and became a sort of father figure for Chiron during his childhood. Another scene that shows that Chiron’s peers are influencing his views of himself is when Chiron asks Jaun,“What’s a faggot?” This term holds a negative connotation for being homosexual. Clearly, Chiron’s peers call him a faggot, and this clearly resonated hard with Chiron. Chiron now associates homosexuality as a negative concept. This greatly affects Chiron because he is still trying to understand his sexuality. W. E Du Bois in his writing Strivings of the Negro People emphasizes a double-conciousness. This double-consciousness is the sense of always looking at yourself in the view of others.
Chiron feels like he is weak and soft because his peers view him that way. This greatly affects how Chiron sees himself, and it starts to create a sense of shame within young Chiron. This shame will go on to affect Chiron’s identity later in the film. An example of Chiron feeling like an outcast can be seen in the scene where his peers are playing soccer in a field. The camera pans across the children, and then captures them all playing and having fun together. This creates a sense of unity among these children.
Young Chiron clearly didn’t feel like he fit in, so he left the scene. Kenny, a friend of Chiron, follows Chiron and tells him to “show these niggas you ain’t soft.” He tells Chiron this in hopes that Chiron will be able to better fit in by being more tough. This highlights the common ideality that one must be tough to be a true man. Even further, this shows that masculinity shapes even young children’s view of how a male should act and feel. Kenny feels as if he is helping Chiron, but this only adds to Chiron not being himself.
Juan, Chiron’s father figure, attempts to help Chiron realize that being himself is a good thing. Jaun helps Chiron with his identity by telling him “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be – can’t let nobody make that decision for you.’ Jaun tries to teach Chiron that it’s okay that Chiron is soft, and that Chiron shouldn’t feel ashamed of this softness. During a scene, Jaun teaches Chiron how to swim. This moment is very vulnerable and happy. Chiron lets go of all of his worries and doubts about himself and instead is just a happy boy swimming in the water. Juan tried to help Chiron be himself, not try to change himself based on his peer’s expectations. Without Jaun’s support, Chiron was once again left confused about his identity.
Section 2, labeled Chiron, portrays Chiron as a 16-year-old adolescent. Jaun has passed away, and Chiron is clearly still struggling to find who he is. Chiron is still being bullied due to his soft and quiet nature. The beach scene between Kenny and Chiron helps to illustrate Chiron’s shame of his vulnerability. In this scene two important conversations occur.
The first conversation is when Chiron admits to Kenny that he cries all the time. Chiron is opening up to Kenny by being vulnerable about his feelings. This conversation is followed by Kenny and Chiron kissing, and sharing an intimate moment. After this intimate moment, Chiron apologizes to Kenny for kissing him. This highlights the fact that Chiron feels ashamed of his feelings towards Kenny. This scene is also important because it shows a glimpse of Chiron’s sexual identity, but Chiron feels ashamed of this identity due to society’s view on homosexuality. For instance, the negatively used word “faggot” that is associated with being homosexual.
Chiron feels further confusion and doubt when Kenny beats him up at school to look manly in front of the school bully. The camera zooms in on Chiron’s face as he’s being beat up by Kenny. Chiron looks hopeless in this scene. At this point, Chiron has no sense of identity that is his own. He only views himself how others view him; weak and a faggot. And he is ashamed of these traits. Due to society Chiron views these traits as being a problem. Chiron’s peers used his softness against him, and in section 3 viewers see that Chiron tries to get rid of these qualities that got him bullied.
Section 3 of Moonlight is called “black”, and it reveals that Chiron grew up to be a tough drug dealer. Sean Nixon in his book, Exhibiting Masculinity, defines the term subjectivization. Subjectivization, according to Nixon, refers to how people shape themselves according to the norms. Nixon also emphasizes that this makes it hard for people to find their own sense of individuality.
As an adult, Chiron changes himself to fit in. He adopts a tough personality, and he internalizes the shame of being queer and vulnerable. Chiron’s struggles while growing up was associated with how society views people who are different. Chiron was vulnerable and soft, while society expected a black male to be tough, strong, and violent. Adult Chiron adopted these expectations because he was tired of trying to find his own identity. Nixon also describes identification, which is the desire to be someone else. It seems as if Chiron desired to be more like Jaun.
Chiron became a drug dealer just like Jaun. Chiron’s major shift in personality proves that society can affect a person’s sense of identity. At the end of the film, Chiron seems to start to accept his true identity and sexual preference. Chiron meets up with Kenny, and they share an intimate moment. Chiron admits to Kenny that Kenny is the only guy that has ever touched him like that. A very sensitive moment is then shared between Kenny and Chiron. Kenny rubs Chiron’s head, as Chiron lais his head on Kenny’s shoulder. This scene shows Chiron’s vulnerability and softness. This scene also helps Chiron accept his sexual preference.
Chiron’s acceptance to his vulnerability and sexual preference at the end of the film may only be temporary, or maybe Chiron finally figured out who he truly is. Either way it is terrible that society shaped how Chiron viewed himself and made it impossible for Chiron to discover his true identity. This highlights how society’s expectations on people to conform to the norms is a truly toxic process. Society’s expectations about masculinity left Chiron confused most of his life. Overall, Moonlight did an amazing job at showing Chiron’s confusing journey at finding out who he is.