Why ‘Moonlight’ is a film every man should see

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Washington, D.C., premiere of the critically acclaimed Moonlight, followed by a Q&A with director Barry Jenkins and the film’s cast. Not knowing what to expect or what I was going to come out thinking, I was optimistic based on some of the great things I had heard, all while being intrigued about the way it would navigate the “homosexual” label it had been given by so many. As I watched the movie, it became abundantly clear that the depiction of male sexuality throughout a lifetime was not only a story for me but one that all men can and should relate to.

Oscar-buzzing ‘Moonlight’ gives viewers something to hold on to

Moonlight depicts the journey of a boy named Chiron through three stages of his life. As a little boy, he learns how to come to grips with feelings that he was unable to understand and navigate while growing up with a drug-addicted mother and in a community where there was no safe place for him. While hiding from school bullies who chased him and called him a “faggot,” Chiron meets a straight man named Juan, who looks out for him with the help of his girlfriend Teresa. This relationship would prove to be life-long and created the safe space needed when things at home became too hostile. 

As a teen, Chiron continued to have these feelings all while doing whatever he could to mask them in an effort to assimilate into the acceptable hetero-normative culture. Denial of these feelings would be in vain, as he and childhood friend, Kev, would later engage in their first male sexual experience together. Their love is betrayed when the two are forced by other male students to fight each other. After he reaches his breaking point, Chiron attacks the fight’s ringleader and lands himself in jail, which inevitably takes him down his path into adulthood. 

In the third stage of the film, we meet Chiron again; this time, he goes by his street name “Black.” He is much more muscular and masculine-presenting than the skinny teenage depiction. He became a drug dealer who completely suppressed his same-gender desires from his adolescence. This is interrupted once again, however, when Kev calls him after all those years to reconnect. When Chiron and Kev reconnect, they dance around the event that happened so many years ago. That is, until the final scene, when they embrace in what is reminiscent of the only time the two ever felt safe.

As inspired as I am by the story told in this film — and the correlation this will have for many men — I am also disheartened when films, television shows, and other media representations cast off homosexuality as a threat to black masculinity and the feminization of the black man. This stigma creates a divide in our community around the ways in which we view sexuality and gender, and further stymies any progressive steps necessary in our collective understanding around the intersection of blackness and queerness. 

This movie could very well be the catalyst for changing the narrative and dialogue that we have in our communities around the treatment of black men who cross different sexes and gender identities, all while challenging the very thought of masculinity being a monolithic list that comes with a check box.

Director Barry Jenkins unpacks his new film ‘Moonlight’

I can imagine what it would be like to go see this movie with my father and little brother. For my father, would he be able to see the depiction of what his son struggled with and lived with and be able to gain a better understanding of the man that I am today? For myself, would I for the first time know that my story was not my story alone, and that the little boy who always knew that he was different wasn’t as different as he once thought? For my younger brother, would he gain insight into who his older brother was while also learning how to navigate this scenario with his future children?

This notion was further enhanced by several heterosexual men who have seen this film and reached out to me directly to release some of their truths. Story after story, I heard things like, “When I was in high school…” and “It really hit home…,” which gives further insight that sexuality is a fluid narrative that can’t be determined by one sexual encounter. That, for black men, sexuality is the totality of the lived experience, and the navigation through that is an effort to gain understanding against the societal norms we are forced to live within to achieve acceptance.

This film is not simply a movie for black gay men or black LGBTQIA. This is a movie that tells the story of any black man who goes through a point in their life where they have to question what was told to them as being right vs. what their instinctual, inherit mind and body tells them is right. This is a film all black men should see. You never know what you may learn about others, and more importantly, what you may learn about yourself.

George M Johnson is an activist and journalist in the Washington DC area.  His work has been featured in Ebony, JET, Huffington Post, TheGrio, and various HIV publications. Follow him on Twitter @Iamgmjohnson.