By Landin Morris – Student Journalist
“Moonlight,” a film directed by Barry Jenkins, illustrates the social economic conflicts that come with being a gay black man. Intersectionality is a feminist concept that suggests that the discrimination one faces is determined by the cumulative identities one assumes. Meaning that the number of minority identities one takes one will determine their placement in the hegemonic hierarchy. The main character, Chiron, deals with a multitude of problems that attack all his identities.
For starters, Chiron is a young black man growing up in a predominantly black impoverished neighborhood in Miami. Due to consistent racism and systematic oppression, many Black people get cornered or trapped in ghettos—much like the one this film presents. And when you force any group of people to live in small, confined spaces with limited resources, violence and disorder is bound to occur. These ghettos represent isolated areas of turmoil that are affected by conflicts such as murder, gang violence, the distribution of drugs, and police brutality. Being a man in this kind of environment puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your shoulders.
The pressure of institutionalized racism combined with the competition to survive within the ghetto requires the Black man to be incredibly strong. Black men must be physically and mentally rugged and durable. If not, they fail not only to protect themselves, but they also fail to protect their loved ones from the numerous other threats that surround black existence. Being a strong man means you must be a masculine man. Masculine enough to scare or deter any threat that challenges you. Because Black men are forced to exhibit hypermasculine characteristics, the portrayal of anything else that ruins this image is considered taboo. A black man being feminine is not okay. A black man wearing pink is not okay. A black man being small and scrawny is not okay. And being gay is most certainly not ok because it ruins the black man’s masculine image.
This culturally appropriated disorder is something that weighs on Chiron’s psyche from the beginning of the film. The film opens with Chiron being chased by other black boys who shouts thing like ‘beat his faggot ass,’ as they corner him in a crack house. Here we start to see the intersection of Chiron’s black identity conflicting with his gay identity. The other black boys sense Chiron’s soft and gentle exterior. His inability to portray masculine characteristics like them. Because soft and gentleness is associated with being feminine, Chiron is painted as a ‘faggot’ in his community because he is a black man exhibiting feminine traits. Even his own mother recognizes the complexity of his identity. When she is confronted by Juan she says “You wanna tell him why the other boys pick on him? You ever seen the way he walk, Juan?” What Paula is saying here is that Chiron is being bullied because he is gay. This culturally appropriated attitude is so deeply embedded that his own mother can’t hear the errors in her ways. Where she should see her innocent son being bullied, she sees a young man who needs to stop crying and toughen up.
But because Chiron is too young to fully comprehend what sexuality is, he doesn’t understand why the other boys antagonize him so much. Which is unfortunate because when you experience a youth like this, stigma and pressures of being black and gay, you start to associate the term gay with something you don’t what to be, even before you know it’s true definition and how it relates to you. Chiron, like many other gay black boys, was taught self-hatred. And what hurts more is that his loved ones, such as his mother and Kevin, helped teach him this. This deep pain represents one of the root causes of Chiron’s depression and anxiety. Having to battle this all alone, Chiron had no choice but to adopt a thug persona. Developing this tough exterior ensures that no one can harm him. Or at least they wouldn’t attempt to physically challenge him. But even as a ‘trapper,’ adult Chiron still feels the effects of his childhood pain. These aspects are important to recognize because it illustrates the life of gay black men. Recognizing how Chiron’s multiple identities affect his upbringing is crucial to comprehending this movie in its totality.