“At some point you need to decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision.”
“Who is you?”
Identity is a central focus of Moonlight, a story that follows an African American character (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Travonta Rhodes) through three stages in his life. Known variously as Little, Chiron, and Black (those names serve as the chapter titles of the three stages of his life) this character is struggling to know who he is and what his place is in the world. As a child Chiron (his real name) is being raised by a drug addicted mother (Naomie Harris) in a tough housing project in Miami. He’s tentative and uneasy with the other children whotorment and bully him. He is befriended by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a black Cuban American, and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who become surrogate parents, especially Teresa.
As an adolescent, he’s struggling to understand his sexuality. He is still being bullied, but now because it is assumed he is gay. An old childhood friend, Kevin (also played by a variety of actors through the story), connects with him while all others shun him. Yet a betrayal leads Chiron into a very new phase of his life.
As an adult Chiron seems to have found his place in the world, but it is not the life we may have hoped for him. When he gets a call from someone in his past, he decides to go see where that may lead. Perhaps there is more to who Chiron has become than his outward life would imply.
In each stage, Chiron struggles to know who he is as opposed to who everyone else thinks he is. While this is touted as a study of the African American coming of age experience, it is far more universal than that description would suggest. At each stage in his life there are forces at work on him—some positive, others destructive, still others that have potential to be either. There are people he loves along the way, but those people are often the ones who disappoint him the most. He has to choose the roads he will travel—and the person he will be.
While we might look at Chiron’s life and see the various influences that pushed him, we know that in the end it is Chiron who is ultimately responsible for who he is and who he is yet to become. His struggle for identity is not settled at the end of the film. There may well be more to come than he has allowed himself to imagine.
Photos courtesy of A24
The Best Picture and Original Screenplay winning film comes with the audio commentary by director Barry Jenkins, a take on the making of the film, a focus on music, and the on-set filming in Miami.