What if you grew up Black, while also feeling like you are a homosexual? It’s hard enough living through one of the two, which is why it takes a seriously committed director like Barry Jenkins to accept the challenge. He doesn’t have that much experience directing feature-length films, but in Moonlight, you would think he’s been a master of his craft for decades. His latest feature has been picking up tremendous well-deserved Oscar buzz due to its subtle shock value that grips you throughout all the important milestones of a boy’s growth into a man within an all-Black community.
The boy’s name is Chiron, and Jenkins introduces us to him while he is on the run from other boys at school who throw garbage at him. His tears of fright call the attention of a humble, hospitable member of the community, played with a cool soothing voice by Mahershala Ali. In this stage of his youth, Chiron’s words are far and few in between, leaving room for what he doesn’t say, rather than what he does say, to craft his complex character. At this point he’s given the name “Little” by the friendly older man, who plans to help him get home, against the boy’s wishes, and for good reason. His mother is the living embodiment of the environment he must grow up in: trashed, rejected, dependent on drugs to sustain mental stability, in other words, the usual Black mother figure of Hollywood cinema. It’s not the best portrayal of Black women, but Naomie Harris’ (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Skyfall) performance as this mother figure is the most disturbing and terrifying onscreen depiction since Heath Ledger’s Joker.
This man quickly becomes the father figure “Little” never knew he wanted, as depicted by a nostalgic swimming lesson on the seashore. He may have the role model his mother failed to be, but it turns out that’s not what his biggest problem is. Rather, his sadness comes from daily getting called a “faggot,” so frequently in fact, that he wonders if it’s true. Under any other directors’ hands, this scene could easily go dreadfully wrong, but Jenkins knew how to pace it in a fashion that commands tears to be shed as Chiron opens up about his sexuality.
Then we are shown his teenage years, where he is given the nickname “Black” by his best friend Kevin. He almost always keeps to himself as his social capacity is limiting; his mother’s desperate harassment towards him for drug money not helping in the process. Just like anybody in their teenage years, here is where screenwriter (also Barry Jenkins) cranks up his storytelling vigor, throwing in detail after detail of Chiron’s most important memories to keep even the most distanced of minds intrigued.
The visual flavor is not like other motion pictures you have seen. Everything about the camerawork is flawed: the image jerks all over, the image spins in and out of focus, the white balance is off, but you know what? It works. If done unintentionally, this would appear to be the work of any amateur who’s never touched a camera before. But director of photography James Laxton orchestrates these imperfections to match the disorder of Chiron’s desire for self-discovery. Nicholas Brittel’s (The Big Short) soundtrack matches the troubling look of the picture to help you hate the people that Chiron would want dead.
While it may be an immediate shut-off for many to see the very open life of a homosexual, especially in a film that features only one White actor (playing a police officer), this is one of the most intriguing looks into Blackness of the past decade. It’s not every day you look into a world where all Blacks casually call each other a “n*gger” as if it’s common slang. So if the subject matter does not offend you, and you want to feel better about the place of Blackness in our world, then Jenkins’ character study is made especially for you.
Moonlight shows us all the troubles that one boy goes through as he grows up feeling like he’s a homosexual. It is always a confusing place to be when you are young, when you feel uncontrollable romantic desires towards someone of the same sex, and yet are not mature enough to know what to make of it, especially when the other kids at school pick on you because they can sense that you are different.
So imagine how much harder it would be if somebody on the autism spectrum grew up thinking that they were gay or a lesbian?
Six-Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces, Lesson #31: Discrimination Can Surface in Various Forms.
Just like in Moonlight, a boy can become a fast subject of bullying because he’s different in two different ways: skin color and sexual orientation. But in the case of this movie, he’s in an all-Black school, but still has one of these differences from the crowd. Yet imagine if he was in another school of mostly White students, how much more the bullying would get to him? In that same way, anybody who is both autistic and gay would become a walking dartboard for bullies. Yet it’s different in the case of being autistic rather than being Black because those on the spectrum have a harder time putting their concerns into words.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing up Autistic, Lesson #45: They Can’t Explain What’s Bothering Them.
Therefore, they simply let themselves get bullied for years by everyone at school, even the teachers in some situations, which always creates a dangerous effect on their mentality. They’ll start believing the lies everyone says about them, embrace these lies, and come to live a troubled existence gloating in the very thing they were bullied for.
I am not a homosexual myself, nor do I know of anybody who is both autistic and gay, but I have known people who were one or the other. So I understand the long-term trauma and effects that discrimination has on anybody who’s different. I’m not here right now to tell you whether homosexuality is a good or bad lifestyle, nor will I try to convince you whether it’s a method of choice or genetic makeup, but what I can tell you is that bullying anybody, whether autistic or gay, always leaves a permanent scar on the victim that dangerously skews the way they look at the world.
So then, what would you do as a parent if your child with autism comes out as being gay? I realize that the answer is different for every parent, as some support the lifestyle while others do not, just like how every child on the autism spectrum is different. But for every case, there is one easy saying that any parent can say to their LGBTQ child:
Your sexual preference does not define who you are.
I have known people who felt that their gayness made up the wholeness of their identity, and frankly, these declarations have never ended well from what I witnessed. It’s important for us all to know, parents, kids, bullies, teachers, that you are far more than a gay/straight label.
I know of a man who happens to be gay, and he is a phenomenal artist and singer, as well as being an all-around super friendly guy. I know of another man who happens to be gay, and he is a very passionate and compelling public speaker who can easily make friends with anyone. I also have a cousin who happens to be married to another man, and my family and I always enjoy the entertaining conversations we have with him. It’s not about their sexual preference that makes people good or bad, it’s how they treat others that defines who they are.
So it should be a requirement for all parents to make sure their kids remember that if they ever say, “mom, dad, I’m gay.” In the case of the child coming out also having autism, here are some helpful takeaways than can clear up the child’s confusion:
- Whether if your autistic child is gay, lesbian, transgendered, asexual, or whatever other sexual preference, remember that there are more important things going on, such as your child’s education and social skills, things that would be more closely related to ASD. Know where your priorities need to be.
- Somebody who is both autistic and gay would imaginably have a near-impossible time making friends. Therefore, it is good to look harder outside of school for a community. It could be an autism group, Boys and Girls club, gathering of others form the LGBTQ community, or your local church, but there’s always someone out there who would love to have your out-of-place child as a friend.
- Keep pressing on your child that sexuality does not define who they are. In the same way, let them know that their autism also does not define who they are. Likewise, skin color does not define what you’re good or bad at, age does not decide your level of maturity, and what others say about you is rarely ever true. Make sure your kid knows where their identity comes from, and make sure they know not to label others that same way.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Brannan, Alex. MOONLIGHT (2016) MOVIE REVIEW. Digital image. CineFiles Movie Reviews. WordPress, 4 Nov 2016. Web. <https://cinefilesreviews.com/2016/11/04/moonlight-2016-movie-review/>.
Moonlight. A24. Web. <http://www.moonlight-movie.com/>.