Hunter White is a history junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
“Moonlight” is not a film about black men. It is not a film about gay men. It is not a film about drug dealers, poverty or life in a Miami ghetto.
Of course, it is about all of these, but to focus solely on them is to lose sight of the universal humanity of Chiron’s quest for identity. In this brave new world, we have rightfully begun the laborious task of filling in the gaps within our national culture. It has become far too tempting to isolate ourselves and our experiences within their respective social segments.
But in our quest for individual representation, we cannot forget that art’s most powerful attribute is not its ability to represent the individual but in its ability to tap into the universal, to touch some portion of our repeated DNA. It is in the pursuance of identity in which Chiron acts as not just a window into his unique struggle but as a mirror into our own soul.
Constrained by images of masculinity, which are rooted in both violence and Don Juan sexuality, Chiron is a boy left trapped between who he is and who he is expected to be. While being chased through the streets by a group of schoolmates who sensed his peculiarity with the acute predatory instinct of children, Chiron is saved by the empathetic Juan, a charismatic drug dealer played by Mahershala Ali.
Juan saves Chiron and takes the impressionable boy under his wing. Although his screen time is short, his presence echoes throughout the film. Juan is one of the few characters in the film willing to accept Chiron as he is and not as whom Juan might imagine him to be.
“So your name Blue?” the young Chiron asks Juan after he shares a story about a nickname bestowed upon him by an old woman from his past.
“Nah, at some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Juan replies.
Mahershala delivers these lines with an anguish born of Juan’s own struggle for an identity, but Chiron never sees the conflict within Juan. Chiron only sees the house, the car, and the beautiful wife — the pre-decided image of what he imagines a man like Juan to be.
In adolescence, Chiron finds himself at war with the same demons that haunted Juan. He lives in a world where his compassion and nonviolence are not the brave and admirable qualities our religions and national values try to paint them as. They instead leave him impotent in the face of violent children emulating violent men.
In this maelstrom of masculine aggression, Chiron seeks comfort in an old friend and schoolmate-turned-lover. This brief moment in which Chiron acts in accordance with himself is almost immediately ripped from him by violent means. Left alone but for these hard-earned lessons, Chiron responds with the only expression of control his world respects: violence.
Years later Chiron appears as Black, an Atlanta drug dealer equipped with fancy car and studded grill, both adopted from Juan’s image. At the height of his new persona, Chiron is pulled back to Miami by a phone call from his one-time lover.
The two men meet as near strangers. Chiron embraced the hard identity he had suffered without, and his former lover turned his back on this hardened masculinity in favor of a calmer life. They dance around each other unsure of who the other has become and whether or not what had initially brought them
Chiron’s dark night of the soul comes in the apartment of his former lover. He shakes loose the amalgamation of assumptions and standards that had crushed him into his current shape. In a small act of human contact he wrentches free some piece of himself out of the Frankensteined masculinity he had built.
“Moonlight” is about the tortured quest for self. It is about the constant war between what we want and what is expected of us. It is a story which should not be secluded to one corner of the human experience. Every shot, every line of dialogue and every gesture brings the audience closer to Chiron’s search for identity. It is this same search for an ever-changing primordial self that harrows us every step of our lives. This unanswerable question that our entire existence turns on, “who is you Chiron?”