What does Moonlight teach us about Black Men?


Moonlight is an amazing film and it deserved to win the Oscar if only for the cinematography alone by James Laxton which is mind blowing. Pause the film at any given time and the shot you’re left with is guaranteed to be frame-able. The acting too was 5-star, getting three different men to play such a distinct and wholesome character must’ve been such a task and they passed it with a rainbow of colours.

However, Moonlight has triggered me. In 2017 I’m triggered because this is the first film I have watched that has portrayed the many dimensions of a black man. It’s not every day the black man can be strong, or fighting or pushing, sometimes the black man can just be. Moonlight showed many powerful scenes of black men just being. Amongst the scene is the baptism-like scene where Juan (Mahershala Ali) holds 12-year old Chiron (Alex Hibbert) over the water, both of them are black men being. The reason I believe Moonlight is such a success is because of that essence of the black man being which worked to heighten the instances of the black man hurting or indeed fighting. Through the contrast of stillness in the water scene against the chaos in many of the prior and following scenes, director Barry Jenkins humanizes the struggle of the black man in a way that other films just do not. He shows a moment in which the black man does not exist either here nor there but perfectly and wholly in between.

Although the film isn’t filled with dialogue, the body language in the film speaks volumes over anything that words could say. The lack of dialogue makes the actor’s emotions so much more raw and hard hitting. For example, in the moment when a young Chiron asks his father-figure Juan whether his mother is on drugs and then follows up with asking him if he sells drugs, Juan’s inability to look the 12-year-old in the eye is heart breaking. Another moment where Jenkins highlights the multi-dimensionality of the black man. In showing shame in the Juan’s eyes when being faced with the disappointment of a child Jenkins shows that the black man is often living a life that is pragmatic rather than preferred. Meaning, black men live their lives solving problems through means deemed sensible that suit the conditions that really exist now.


The film’s catapult into mainstream has come not long after the suicide by 8-year-old black boy Gabriel Taye who took his own life allegedly because of bullying at school. Such a sensitive and catastrophic occurrence only further highlights the need for black boys and men to be given the space to be and the space to cry. No 8-year-old boy from any race should ever reach the tragic desperation of Gabriel Taye.

According to the NY times in 2015 the suicide rate of black children within ages 5 and 11 had doubled between 1993 and 2013 — while the rate among white children had declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys in particular. This is a problem. If you take anything from Moonlight it is to learn that black men cry, and that they should. We all need to cut this narrative of the hard black man who is strong as knives and deals with his emotions through anger alone. Yes, black men are strong, they have to be in the current state we live in. But that is not all a black man is and the sooner we learn this the sooner we stop putting black men into a box and the sooner we learn to let the black man be.



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