I finally got to see “Moonlight” from director Barry Jenkins yesterday.
It was worth the wait. This is probably one of the best depictions we will see on the big screen of contemporary gay black men.
The film packs emotions — some sweet, some bitter. And the cinematography is so crisp and colorful it’s like you are right there with main characters Chiron and Kevin in Miami’s tough Liberty City and on the balmy subtropical beaches of South Florida.
Most reviewers have cast this film as a coming-of-age story of a gay black boy Chiron who is bullied unmercifully at school and neglected by his drug addicted mother Paula, played powerfully by Brit actress Naomie Harris.
Chiron’s only respite is the care he gets from drug dealer Juan (actor Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae), who accept Chiron and answer the child’s question about what is a faggot with grace and sensitivity.
But to me — a gay man — this three-part film that follows friends Chiron and Kevin as children, teens and young adults is really a love story.
Soon after the film opens you see Chiron (actor Alex Hibbert), who is called “Little” because he is smaller than most of the other children, in a field playing soccer with others with a makeshift ball of newspaper. He leaves the playing and Kevin (Jaden Piner) follows him.
Although the other children call Chiron soft and a faggot, Kevin says he doesn’t think Chiron is as passive as they make him out to be and challenges him to fight. And they do, wrestling each other to the ground.
So even as children Kevin already has cast himself as the mostly silent and brooding Chiron’s protector and supporter. And their physical grappling, although not sexual, foreshadows a connection that will come when they get older.
Later as teenagers Kevin (actor Jharrel Jerome) brags to Chiron (Ashton Sanders) about the girl he fucked in the school stairwell and how big his dick is. He says he tells Chiron these personal things because he knows Chiron “can keep a secret.”
This exchange would go over many straight folks’ heads as male locker room talk.
But gay men get it. “Straight men” or down-low men often try to seduce us by bragging about all the sex they get with girls or their dick size. Or they try to mollify their insecurity about really being gay by overcompensating their heterosexuality.
We know Kevin is crushing on Chiron, but he doesn’t know how to express it. At least not yet. And we know Chiron is attracted to Kevin because he fantasizes about him in his dreams. But he doesn’t know how to express it. Not yet.
Then one evening they bump into each other on a moonlit beach and consummate their attraction. It’s an exquisite, sensitively portrayed scene. I won’t spoil it for you — you really have to watch it.
However, Kevin betrays Chiron in a violent act and the two are separated for 10 years. But one day Kevin (now portrayed by Andre Holland), who has become a cook and a waiter after being released from prison, hears a song a customer plays on the jukebox that reminds him of his teen love.
And he gets Chiron’s telephone number from Teresa and calls him and says he wants to reconnect. And Chiron, who is now portrayed by a stunningly handsome Trevante Rhodes, hops in his hoopty and drives the 9 hours from Atlanta and surprises Kevin at his restaurant.
When Kevin recognizes Chiron you can see the attraction that first drew them together hasn’t died. It’s in that yearning look in both their eyes.
But will they break through all the bullshit — all the ways black men are taught to hide their emotions, be tough and masculine and live up to the expectations of others — and just be themselves?
You need to go see “Moonlight” to find out.