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In Moonlight – Black Boys Look Blue – Why Moonlight won Oscar?

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“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”  Is probably one of the greatest movies that this century has made. It is only obvious that this movie has gotten the Oscar despite the complicated subject that it has touched. With or without Oscars, this movie is just there in everyone’s heart. Barry Jenkins succeeded in making this expressive drama which talks about the life of Chiron, a sensitive little African-American boy who discovers his sexual orientation. However, it is a tragedy that he is living in an exhilarating Odyssey as he discovers it. There are not many movies which are better than Moonlight when it comes to the structure, the screenplay, the camera angles or the sound of the movie.

Therefore, the high praise around this movie is justified to win the Academy Award for the Best Picture, beating La La Land, the people’s favorite. The story of Moonlight is spread in three different times of Chiron; his childhood, his teenage and his adulthood. Barry Jenkins, the writer, and director explores this scope of transformation and reflects it in the behavior of Chiron as he goes from one cultural backdrop to another. The illusion and allusion of the society surround him wherever he goes dividing his life into three fragments, which Jenks has beautifully managed to narrate that people can both access and as well as relate to it.


Context of Moonlight:

According to the movie, the theme says that life is a growing and never-ending process. A person goes through countless phases which is why despite being the same person, you can’t act the same in two different situations of life. Moonlight explores and employs the three shades of Chiron while finding the perfection in the imperfection of these three personalities. Jenkins paints us different colors in presenting all the three complex stages through fragility, silence, and convolution. These three parts are heavily marked by a clear perspective on Chiron’s life while he still has the internal constant crisis that binds him the chaotic world. There are many regressive emotions in the movie that are expressed in the romanticization through the gentle paradigm of an artist. What makes this movie beautiful is that the director has used camera movement and body language in order to achieve this sense of solitude and exclusion in Chiron’s life. Chiron doesn’t communicate with another person in this movie but with the viewer not with words but with the intertextuality of mind and body. His introverted nature is mimicked to an extent that Jenkins has used the expert style of sound and natural visuals.

Moonlight Vs Boyhood:

If you observe the plot, Moonlight is very similar to Boyhood that has been released a few years ago. Linklater has managed to make this movie stand out but Jenkin has managed to touch the sensitive spot of the audience. The transition of a boy from his boyhood to adulthood is shown in both of the films but differs in the way they take shape. The social-culture differences, the characteristic traits, and the backgrounds are different for both which is why one of the movies is character driven like David Fincher’s while the other is story driven like Martin Scorsese’s. Boyhood, however, has been benefitted from the stellar cast and the contemplative screenplay; Moonlight has the power from Jenkin’s understanding of African American community and his recital of solitude The performances in Moonlight, on the other hand, are not subliminal at all. The visual display of emotions without any dialogues act as highlights in the Moonlight, enabling Jenkins to wander more in the technical coup. The juxtaposition of the basic elements in the story engulfs the viewers in the maelstrom filled with overbearing feelings where Chiron fights his own battle with the world around him.

The Three stages of Moonlight:

#The Childhood:

Chiron is an introverted black kid who is anxious about finding his place in society. Therefore, his life is reflected in three different phases where three different actors bring the life of Character beautifully, grounding the characterization and the fantasization, close to humans and reality as well.

“Little, e paltry designation Chiron is reduced to for his timid stature, habitually finds himself as a target for bullies. He often becomes a prop in other children’s idea of recreation and descends into isolation. In one of his daily routines, he is spotted by a drug dealer, Juan, who goes to inspect and comfort him. After taking him to his girlfriend, Juan is able to get Chiron to reveal his neighborhood, in the process forming a bond of friendship and trust with him. When they reach his house, Juan is surprised and taken aback to find that Chiron’s mother is one of his customers. He confronts her about her parenting style, leaning on her to change the ways of her life. Instead, Paula turns the tables on him and accuses him of facilitating the whole process and saying that Juan is the biggest disappointment in Chiron’s life. An upset Paula shouts out at an out-of-tune Chiron, who barely registers the whole episode.”

Chiron goes to visit his mate Juan in order to know the meaning of faggot, which is often used to refer him by his classmates. Juan assuages and tells him that it is a word that people use in order to hurt gays. In a heartbroken scene, we see how Chiron is affected by the frivolities of the social obligation where Chiron suspects whether Juan is the one who is giving drugs to his mother. Juan hangs his head in shame and thus Chiron leaves the place in tears.

#2 Chiron:

This episode of Chiron is charged and shows us the raw segments in his life, like any other gay individual on the earth. This period is a phase where he tries to shape his identity in order to make who he really is. It is like a foundation that defines the edifice of our lives. Chiron as a child, use to be very introverted while he sparsely interacted with the people around him with an intent. Bullies become his everyday partners while compelling him to participate in shenanigans. Tyrell, the leader of a band terrorizes him while indulging boys in acts. However, it’s when Chiron’s relation with her mother that gets deteriorated, he gets completely devastated. Even while dealing with her maturely, Chiron is broken inside. Paula starts to prostitute her body in order to support her drug habits and steals money that Teresa has given to Chiron for the needs. He visits Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend who has been alone since his death. In a dream sequence, he imagines that Kevin, his best friend is having sex with some friend in the backyard of Teresa. He then proceeds to spend alone time with Kev, discussing his ambitions and even fears. The two realize that they have a harboring affection which leads each other to have a passionate kiss, followed by a passionate act. However, at school the next day Tyrell forces Kevin in order to beat up Chiron. While Kev is reluctant to do that, he, however, beats him back and blues. Chiron attacks Tyrell in the classroom in order to fight his fear and stares at Kevin with fury, as he gets escorted by the police out of the school.

#3 Black:

Chiron achieves his adulthood to get treated indifferently than the other two stages. He goes on to deal drugs in Atlanta, following the lifestyle of Juan. Paula is in contact with him from the new rehabilitation center that she has joined. Despite being in contact with the mother, he visits her and reveals that he doesn’t share any empathy for her because of the all the incidents that have happened from his childhood. They share a speck of feeling through an emotional moment because of the bond that they have managed to keep in all those years together and even apart. This is when Chiron finally gets a call from Kevin who invites him for a dinner at his dinner. Chiron on being surprised by the call goes to meet him. The reunion is well except that Kevin says that his father is now has a child with his ex-girlfriend and despite that, he is a bit happy and content in life. The silence of Chiron when he’s asked about Kev tells us that he did not have much in his life and is filled out with a song that Kevin remembered about him. Chiron confesses to Kevin that he has been intimate with another person other than him at the night and the two starts embracing as the camera goes back to Chiron in the moonlight, blue telling us that ‘In Moonlight, black guys look blue’.

Moonlight and the Breeze:

The two most prominent cathartic motifs that Jenkins uses in his film is the oceanic breeze and moonlight. The two elements often appear on the screen when Chiron is really comfortable with who he really is. The beach becomes almost like a safe haven for Chiron, a place where he is alone with his thoughts, a place that doesn’t discriminate and embraces his flaws and imperfections, a place where he is at peace. Right from his first experience with Juan, to his special night with Kevin, the breeze, that is evidently amplified to achieve the desired effects, is symbolic of the calmness and serenity that we all long for in life. It slows down proceedings, allowing for the viewer to breathe and cherish in the satisfaction of Chiron.

The moonlight, the reason it has been titled that it is a symbol of the loneliness and as well as his yearning for his whole self. This film is highly inspired by the play “In Moonlight, Black Boys look Blue”, by Tarell McArney. There are instances in this film we can see Chiron in the barring standing the moonlight, the last scene where he is just shown as a shadow. Moonlight assumes the importance of Chiron’s story through Juan’s childhood and his encounter with a woman who has given him this quote.

The Struggle with Masculinity:

One of the tussles that Jenkins focus in this movie is the clash between cultures, traditions and periods of different times. Chiron’s tryst with the expectations and the society tune his life accordingly. In the stage of the life, Chiron goes through immense suffering at the hands of people that are living around him. His sexual orientation sticks you out like a thumb and raises many eyebrows and unpleasant things accordingly. He is struck with the social expectations like masculinity which makes you feel like slick and cool like Juan. Jenkins excels in translating the charged body movement and expressions that are laced in energy as well as consciousness. His inner personality is shown to be at odds with the unpleasant environment that he’s living in but he wants to yearn for self-expression and peace. Chiron, by all of the people that are living around him, is expected to be a man because of the constant fixation that the gender roles and the stereotypes have for him. These episodes show us how the homosexuals are suffering across the globe while his community is every unacceptable of the person he is and expects him to conform himself to the way they want to see him.

Using the character, Jenkins tries to present us with the global scenario of how men in the world are in harsh surroundings while they are forced to be a part of the society, buy first mending with others and adapting their habits. He says that boys like Little and men like Chiron are accepted to be a part of the society only when they act accordingly even when they lose parts of themselves when they are viewed from a socio-cultural context. His afflicted lead is someone who never managed to come in terms with the societal expectations and did not succumb to them. He wants to remain who he is despite how strongly people tried to imprint the masculinity on him through the standards that are set on him by other people while creating a chaos in him.

Black, the act III of the movie confirms all the feats that Chiron has experienced as a kid. It puts a charade of the kind of person that he doesn’t want to be but is forced to be. He has reduced himself from the image that society is expecting from him to something that he really wants to be. The poker face, the expensive car, and the drug dealer personality are something that the society has expected of him being a black person, with a confirmed vision of perfection. Chiron has become all of these even when he doesn’t want to. Chiron’s moments as Black are when he went against people that he hates to love, Kevin and Paula. Both of them can make the exterior melt and turn him into the little that always lived inside him when he wandered in the moonlight, along with lots of freedom. The Chiron’s nature is drawn against this version, which is the heartbreak of this film.

Arthouse of Chiron:

When asked about the surroundings, Barry Jenkins has revealed in an interview that these are the things that set the story apart. He says that he stays away from his usual realistic visuals and wanted to adopt a different approach in order to justify the approach for Chiron. He disrupted the cinematic formula of coming up with a marginalized area and started infusing it with the modern style so that it can give the riveting dynamic that is needed in Moonlight. His achievement is that he has managed to not only transform this narrative from being a stereotypical one but managed to humanize it with the jarring depiction of violence, misery amidst the sophisticated neighborhood. The introspection of Chiron’s character along with the cellos and violins fighting the Miami sounds will make you realize that there’s not just the beauty but there is an unknown darkness about the beach.

This method will shake you through the movie with the fabrication of reality with the dream creating a surrealistic experience that the user can’t miss. Jenkins also uses the mismatch between the reality of Chiron and his exterior life which makes him extremely uncomfortable. The film relinquishes in the in-betweens and in the harshness and brutality. Also, him being black is a major advantage because he could use the classical music, the haunting images that we don’t usually find in the majority of the movies.  Most of the critics’ term this movie as a poem, like the Tarkovsky’s cinemas. Jenkins manages to drown us in the contemplative and hazy visuals creating the hypnotization. Also, he comes up with major symphonies and highly disturbing images. While this choice is not usual, it has managed to strike millions of people who are stuck in the houses and are absorbed by the lavish houses because they are forced to.

Camera and Sound:

These are two important things that a director needs to know when to use and where to use. The usage of visuals in this movie are in perfect synchronization with the actor’s body language and his emotions. You can see how they almost blend with the personality of Chiron while triumphing with cool colors. His color palette, his usage of sound and camera and beyond brilliance. Jenkins has chosen to let his camera talk for his characters by creating a fluid framework while establishing a connection with one character and another. There are many raw cuts that explore the undeveloped and almost developed bonds between them. When Chiron is shown meeting Juan, Jenkins uses the pan angle for the pair but when they interact, these are two different scenes showing that they are two different people. Chiron’s shyness and speculation are shown on how he couldn’t trust the people that met and share information with them. Jenkins, in most of the scenes, place the camera between the actors to invite the audience in between them rather than looking them from an outer plane. This is one of the reasons why the audience has felt most connected with the movie. Chiron as shown as an inert person who can’t confine in the social space and who can’t behave when the camera is facing him. This exemplary use of the camera in capturing the emotions of Chiron will draw Moonlight closer and closer to you.

Sounds, on the other hand, are pretty natural in this movie. When Little is being chased by tormenting bullies, we witness a massive magnitude of sound that immerses us in his plight and in his fear. The cathartic sound that comes when he is in love with the beach is when we experience his solitude. We see the ocean and its waves crushing us through the ears. The juxtaposition of all the dull and dark visuals with these sounds will make us feel that we are sitting in the theatre and are witnessing the story that is almost our’s. The sincerity of the Moonlight is that it has kept so naturally.

One of my favorite pair of sequences in the film is the circling camera used on two occasions. The first is in the first segment of the story when Little struggles to get along with other kids. The circular movement of the camera exudes energy and happiness of the kids. While in the second part, the circular camera returns, but with a different intention and purpose. Tyrell anchors the movement and immediately establishes a menacing energy.

The contrast of sound between these two shots is opposite in context which proves the director’s talent as a maker. He has a motif that reoccurs here but only with a different meaning and therefore is presented in a different paradigm. Jenkins also repeats the disjointedness in many scenes where the actors are not aligned with the lip movements or where they don’t have any movement at all. In the initial scenes, we see Jenkin experimenting with sound when Paula and her crack addiction is shown. Her spurring words reflect the quality that he is expected to prove the bond between Chiron and his mother. Chiron pulls the archetype which forces him to stay away from others. The second scene when Kevin meets Black after years is presented with a great sound. This is because the bond between both of them has been transformed through the periods after the school accident. This innovation has indeed set a benchmark for the films where the directors can use a variety of tools to present your story.

The Ending of Moonlight:

The climax of this movie is open and therefore, people can opine on it the way they want to. After experiencing the film, they can have their own perception that the underlying theme is mainly concentrated on the self-discovery of the audience. By showing us the struggle of Chiron whose idea is just to be what he is and to escape from the imposition of the society, the existential crisis will place you in a gray area. The conflict is so natural that you would not want to think about which position you’re in because it will lead you to an area full of catastrophic consequences. Therefore, Chiron who has finally molded himself as a masculine person is now trapped in the societal image. Black, the third act of the movie is a nightmare which shows how Chiron has corroded himself with this fake image. The kind, generous and shy kid that we have seen in the beginning has been changed into a cold-hearted individual who is putting a façade to face the tough society. Kevin appears briefly in both the 1st and 2nd chapters, but it’s his role in the third chapter that makes us react to Chiron’s character. It builds the structure of the film with the archetype of the lover.

Chiron is given a layered personality in this movie where the director serves us two different archetypes that define his identity. According to the plot, Little is a dream full of love but due to the lack of empathy from others, he is hurt. He gets redeemed by Teresa and Juana who tries to keep him the way he is. Black, however, is a depraved human being who is yearning to get the one night that gave the meaning to his life and the only moment where he felt completely alive. The in-between frustration is displayed in Chiron who is betrayed by Kevin, leaving him as an empty human who is now tired of generating compassion again and again and again.  The spiral of Chiron starts going down when he beats Tyrell in the class in order to get back at Kevin. His generosity is shown to lose at that point and after that incident, he doesn’t really care to be what he is. He changes into a completely unrecognizable person and mimicks Juan because he’s the only masculine person that is there. He is bossy, he has a muscular image and he even starts practicing the drug sales which he has hated once. His personality is shown directly different which is opposite to everything that he is!

Meeting Kevin again after so many years brings him memories of his old self. His admission of lack of any empathy and intimacy to Kevin and his remembrance of the night that they had spent that night at the beach shows us how skeptical he has become of love. How Kevin’s betrayal has changed him into another person. Juan and Kevin together fail the goodness inside Chiron and this changes his entire outlook on life. Chiron also thinks that there’s fault in him and this is why he absorbs the imposed image on him so that the societal image is now turned into his own reality. He strives so hard to conform to all of those expectations. He bosses around the people and also bullies his employees, which shows that he has started understanding life in a different way. But, when he has finally seen Kevin at the diner all of the memories started flooding back bringing the suppressed nature of him. His vulnerability is shown again when Kevin expresses his feelings and as a result, he brings his whole exterior down and allows Kevin to get a tinge of the old Chiron that is there. They embrace for a moment reflecting the memories.

However, this time this intimacy is completely different. While the former meeting was full of passion and love, this meeting is hugely marked by acceptance and maturities of how they have become. Kevin is now having a family with his own people and is happy in life. Even after being a bi-sexual, he has his own identity. Chiron returns to his old nature with Kev’s re-entry in his life which has taken him to the night that they have spent in life. Also, it has brought the Little’s innocence, curiosity, and peace in Black’s life. Jenkins has used this shot full of moonlight as a huge metaphor for Chiron’s exploration of his sexual orientation and identity. Black now tries to get his true self back by donning a cloak that he has carried for so long. He is finally out of the cage that he has built from people’s expectations. His final gaze where he looks into the camera is content, assured and is full of life. It’s as if that he is entering into his own world where he is comfortable with the person he is. The beach is shown as a safe haven for him because he has experience all the life-changing moments in it. In the end, Chiron is shown standing at the new horizon with a future which is expecting him without any levied expectations on him.

Moonlight is a beautiful film that you shouldn’t miss because it deals with the concept of being your own self and meeting the societal expectations showing that you can never truly hide from yourself.

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