Moonlight (2016), dir. Barry Jenkins

moonlight

i. Little 

Who is you, Chiron?

How did we get Moonlight? Jenkins might seem a product of the film school generation, but as he relates on Awards Chatter, he studied at Florida State University, the only school he could afford; the film program was run out of a football stadium. Jenkins interned at Telluride, watching films, handing out tickets and making popcorn, meeting filmmakers like D.A. Pennebaker, Lynne Ramsay and David Cronenberg. He worked as assistant on Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005), jaded with the Hollywood system, moving to San Francisco. He was a stagehand and carpenter trying to pay bills, unloading boxes at Banana Republic. Jenkins made Medicine for Melancholy (2008) with people from film school, influenced by Linklater’s Before films, using $15,000 from a friend and paying only 3 people, wanting to prove to myself that film school wasn’t a fluke.”

Jenkins worked on other projects, becoming a programmer and moderator at Telluride, working on branded content with his largest budgets ever. As Kevin B Lee explores in his video essay Barry Jenkins Before Moonlight, his distinct style and focus upon character begin to emerge, illuminating minority perspectives from the Latina protagonist of Chlorophyl (2011) to the Arab American couple washing flags in a Laundromat in the wake of 9/11 in My Josephine (2003). We sense Jenkins’ entire aesthetic and technical brilliance, through out-of-focus shots and depth of field.

Jenkins’ producer and FSU classmate Adele Romanski pressured him.

What the fuck are you doing? Why haven’t you made a fucking film?

Producing a film about African Americans in a Miami suburb was always going to be a struggle. Working with Plan B, Brad Pitt’s studio, alongside A24, the studio’s first in-house production, Jenkins had a $1.5 million budget and 25 days. Romanski “ignore[d] the idea that the industry couldn’t make a black, gay movie with no big stars”, with a budget where, as Jenkins describes, “other people can’t fuck with us”; Jenkins couldn’t even afford rehearsals. Jenkins adapted the film from an unproduced play by Tarell McCraney, a cinematic, non-sequential piece, writing the screenplay in 10 days from a hotel room in Brussels. Jenkins felt a personal connection, as though “Tarell took these memories of my memories and put them in a dream state”.

Moonlight is a queer film, a black film, an Oscar winning film and an independent film about drug abuse, poverty, masculinity, mothers and sons. It’s a punchline about how La La Land lost its Oscar, sitting alongside Gone with the Wind (1939), Casablanca (1943), Ben-Hur (1959), The Godfather (1972) and Schindler’s List (1993) and other Best Picture winners. Moonlight deserves it, carrying weight to anyone who was a kid, had a mom, was bullied in high school, had a crush, without sacrificing its specificity as a film about a black queer kid growing up in Liberty City with a drug-addicted mom. Jenkins felt his aggressive empathy could only go so far, but tried to “mine my life for what was true and authentic”.

Both LGBTQIA+ and African American cinema hold a complicated history with the Oscars. As Angelica Jade Bastién writes, “the awards operate as a useful mirror for the history of filmmaking in America, equally for what they reward and what they silence”. LGBTQIA+ Oscar winners are built upon a legacy of erasure, queer coding and villainous archetypes. As Bastién points out, 2016’s Oscar nominations “were in production before the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was created”; only 4 black men have ever been nominated for best director. The celebration of Fences and Hidden Figures mark important progress, but are not a race victory.

Studying at FSU, Jenkins foundeverybody’s movies looked and sounded the same”, dominated by Wes Anderson knock offs, turning instead to Criterion laserdiscs and the films of Claire Denis and Wong Kar-wai. In early pitches, Jenkins stressed the importance of “Queer Black Cinema”, collating his influences, but found no financiers. For Jenkins, cinema bridges emotion between cultures as a “global art form”; Miami and Hong Kong are not so far apart.

In his visit to the Criterion closet, we see his sheer joy at Cassavetes, Demy, Tati and Kieślowski. An unapologetic film fan, Jenkins speaks for all of us. Jenkins took influence from Ramsay’s combination of professional and non-professional actors in Ratcatcher (1999), using Miami residents within Moonlight, but also found inspiration from the photography of Henry Roy, Earlie Hudnall Jr. and Vivianne Sassen.

Many of Jenkins’ influences were unconscious. Speaking at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jenkins cited the influence of a scene in Beau travail (1999) coming back in the moment of shooting, years after he saw the film.

I go to André [Holland]. He was standing against this wall; he looked like James Baldwin. I was like “bruh, you still got that cigarette? 

Moonlight’s triptych structure might seem innovative, delineating each act into its own episode whilst keeping an overarching narrative, but Moonlight’s narrative is linear: the 3-act structure is the most conventional model of narrative storytelling within film. Jenkins took influence from the triptych structure of Three Times (2005), charting relationships across different time periods, leading to “a deeper understanding”. Moonlight’s structure could draw parallels to Boyhood (2014), where Linklater sought a universal portrait of adolescence, filmed in real time over twelve years, yet Linklater spoke largely to the white middle class art school kids he grew up around. Playwright Tarell McCraney felt the film could be more poetic and gritty than Linklater’s approach. Jenkins made each section distinct, refusing to let actors see each other’s work, not wanting Chiron or Kevin “to bear the responsibility of trying to carry the same walking style, the same delivery of lines”.

Moonlight’s most radical aspect might be its visual aesthetic. Working with long-time cinematographer James Laxton, Jenkins knows how to construct visual images. Laxton creates unreality and ethereality through the brightness of lights and subdued lighting, beyond a naturalistic aesthetic to a “dreamlike state”. Jenkins recreated Miami as he remembered it, “super vibrant, super bright, and super colorful” in its “greenery and open sky” and “massive spaces”, relying upon the anamorphic frame. Speaking in Rotterdam, Jenkins argues the naturalism of social realism is itself artificial, pretending the camera isn’t there; Jenkins never hides it, embracing cinema as situated space.

Shooting on the Alexa 235, Jenkins found versatility. Jenkins drew attention to the human face, relying upon “moment[s] between the lines”, allowing actors to “be human”. Like photojournalist and director Khalik Allah, abstracting vocal from the visual in Field Niggas (2015) by framing poverty-stricken minority residents of Harlem in close-up, Jenkins disorients the viewer, shifting between a dissonant 48 and 24fps, seeking an amplified emotional state and intensity where he could “promote those emotions”. Jenkins’ moving camera becomes fluid and uncomfortable, recalling Alan Clarke and Kubrick’s disorienting use of Steadicam. In pink and green hues, colour takes on a symbolic resonance, creating a duality between Chiron and his mother.

Between each chapter, Jenkins utilises repeating leitmotifs, a perfectly organised construction. Jenkins mirrors shots, drawing parallels from images of the controlling tides of the ocean and moon, positioning water and the ocean as a “place of possibility”. Water and nature become insistent: as Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) describes, he “catch[es] this same breeze” in the hood, that “everybody just wanna feel”. In the final scene, as Jenkins describes in the screenplay, Little locks his gaze “right at us, staring plaintively, plainly, nothing requested, no expectation: just a clear, undisturbed openness”, leading us into the ocean.

ii. Chiron

I’ve been thinkin’ bout you (You know, know, know)
I’ve been thinkin’ bout you, do you think about me still?
Do ya, do ya?

– Thinkin’ Bout You – Frank Ocean (2012)

Moonlight is a film about identity, between three Chirons, Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders), and Black (Trevante Rhodes), and three Kevins (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland), including non-professional actors, some recruited from community centers. McCraney sought the film to be a process of discovering the “innermost self” between “the macro, micro, personal and even spiritual”, manifesting within “slivers of moonlight”. Identity construction is an ongoing process, as McCraney continues to evaluatequestions about my own identity and my own self-worth”. Chiron holds his self back, taking the world in yet never speaking, unable to form his identity. As a teenager, he pretends to smoke, yet Kevin can tell it’s a ruse. His name is created and rejected by others. Chiron stresses to Teresa (Janelle Monáe) that his name is no longer Little, yet she tells him he has to earn his name and make it true. Kevin re-christens his name as Black, a name he initially rejects.

As an act of autobiography, speaking in Rotterdam Jenkins argued he “made this film for an audience of two”, but audiences can find empathy in their own soil. Jenkins feels “audiences are actually champing at the bit for really personal unique visions of things”, rather than the directing committees of cinematic universes. But its entire cast and crew were affected: as Jenkins relates on Awards Chatter, Sanders needed a moment to breathe, having issues with his own mom; Monáe knew “cousins who sold drugs [and] cousins dealing with sexual identities”.

McCraney entrusts Jenkins with his own experiences. Blackness and queerness intersect between two marginalised communities, with internal biases. As McCraney comments:

My gayness doesn’t give me any pass. I’ve still had the police pull me out of a car, put guns to my head, lock me in handcuffs and leave me face down in the pouring rain for no reason. […] There’s no gay card that gets you off the hook.

But representation is a powerful tool. As Hilton Als reflects:

 Did any gay man who came of age, as I did, in the era of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and AIDS, think he’d survive to see a version of his life told onscreen?

McCraney comments he “never had a coming out moment”, but “small moments”; Chiron never states his identity. We can read Kevin as bisexual, or bicurious, or in denial, but the film never makes this explicit. It tells as much as it needs within the frame, allowing us to fill in gaps. Jenkins reminds us of the lack of linearity to sexuality: I never came out once. I came out as gay, as andro, as pan, as ace. I feel confident in my identity now, but this might not stay stable.

Jenkins refuses to stylise sexuality, never eroticising Chiron’s experiences. Kevin and Little wrestle as kids in Cherry Park with intimate contact, falling to the ground. As a teenager, Kevin brags, telling Chiron about screwing Samantha in class; in Chiron’s dream, Kevin’s experiences distort amid sounds of ocean waves, to music video logic. As Chiron is jerked off on the beach, Jenkins emotionalises queer sexuality beyond physical acts, amid the waves of the ocean. Speaking with Jerome about the scene, he determined “Chiron had never kissed anybody, period.”

As he describes in the screenplay:

These are waters they’ve never charted, the culmination of invitations they’ve been sending since day one.

As Josh Lee writes, Jenkins is “showing queerness as we recognise it”, not the “forbidden, shadowy sex” of Brokeback Mountain (2005) but “allow[ing] queerness to surface in other ways”, letting queer viewers “reconcile feelings of loss and resentment towards our childhoods, and begin healing in a way that no sex scene could.

As an asexual, identifying as gay as a teenager, Jenkins’ depiction feels the most honest. My sexuality was a string of awkward handjobs. School was dominated by a culture of pressure, behind half-truths and hyperbole, sexuality an act of performance. Chiron instinctively apologises to Kevin. I still do this to this day. But queerness is never something to apologise for. Kevin accepts him, asking “What you got to be sorry for?” Queerness concealed the odd boyfriend here and there and desperate longing. As university started, sexuality felt an obligation.

As Lee argues, as Black, Chiron builds a “hardened exterior” to survive, retreating within and erasing his own identity. McCraney found the final act of the film difficult to cope with: as Jenkins relates in Rotterdam, after screening the film “he just sat there, staring into space for about twenty minutes”; in the play, Kevin’s phone call was the ending; McCraney “had not reconciled what that relationship was”. Jenkins emphasises sexuality through glance and gesture and the act of making food. Kevin cooks food he’s never able to serving coffee, throwing together black beans, rice and chicken in a fetishised dance. Speaking at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jenkins comments that he wanted to “retain the repetition” of the circular narrative of McCraney’s script. The act takes on different meanings, “happen[ing] to us over and over again”; food takes on a paternal function as an “act of nurturing”.

Kevin takes a photo out of his wallet, revealing his family, Samantha as wife; Black never has a chance for a child. Black drives 12 hours for an uneasy reunion, dancing to Barbara Lewis’ Hello Stranger, going back to Kevin’s apartment together, hinting at something, but still shaking. Even as adults, Jenkins plays restraint with sexuality; speaking in The Village Voice, Jenkins comments that the importance is in what Chiron “seemed prepared to accept”, not if anything actually happened. As Lee writes, Chiron’s experience, for the privileged, is “an exaggerated reflection of our own experiences”, whilst “to-scale” for others, as an unarticulated queerness in a culture where HIV is concentrated within black poverty.

iii. Black

Everything black, I don’t want black
I want everything black, I ain’t need black
Some white some black, I ain’t mean black
I want everything black

The Blacker the Berry – Kendrick Lamar (2015)

Black filmmaking is inherently politicised. Early black filmmaking acted independently through segregated audiences, dislocated through integration, filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux responding to the racism of The Birth of a Nation (1915). Jenkins found inspiration in UCLA’s L.A. Rebellion of the 1970s, “where Spike [Lee] had taken his cues from”. Black cinema seems defined by projects narratives, through the New Black Wave of the 80s and 90s like Boyz n the Hood (1992); in Fresh (1994), we sense uneasy responsibility placed upon young black kids. Spike Lee embraced the ghetto, unapologetically playing to black audiences issues of representation and racism. American History X (1998) provides uneasy counterpoint to ‘hood’ narratives: sympathy is placed in swastika-emblazoned neo-Nazi Danny, following his murder of a black teenager in brutal detail.

Being a black filmmaker carriers a burden. Jenkins found launching a project after Medicine for Melancholy difficult amid recession, studio-owned independent distributors like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent dissolving; projects with Disney and Focus Features, like Stevie Wonder time travel story Wonderland and his adaptation of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man falling through. Jenkins sought a project with FSU friend Adele Romanski, producer of Kicks and Morris from America, pitching a film he described as “Die Hard’ on the Bay Bridge” to Romanski’s frustration. Black narratives often rely upon microbudgets, with Gimme the Loot (2012) utilising smaller voices within a big city, whilst Tangerine (2015) embraced iPhone cinematography. Fences acted as a passion project for the already established Denzel Washington. Jenkins found allies in directors like Ryan Coogler, Kahlil Joseph and Terence Nance, watching early cuts of the film.

Moonlight is unapologetically black: its characters black, its music black, its identity struggle queer and black in a world where queer black narratives are difficult enough to see even in porn. Film and photography have nullified our vision of black skin, but Jenkins embraces the shirtless black body; fought against a cinematic medium calibrated towards white skin, rejecting powder but using oil to sheen “moist, beautiful black skin”.

Central to Moonlight’s racial identity is its musical identity. In the opening credits, over A24’s logo, Jenkins immediately assaults us with blackness with Every Nigger is a Star, though it were the 20th Century Fox fanfare in Star Wars, offering cues to the film’s tone. Jenkins wanted to createa very aggressive, radicalized depiction of my version of a black experience where I grew up” in Blaxploitation’s vein, bringing “art house to the hood” without code-switching or concessions. As Kambole Campbell comments, Black’s embrace of chopped and screwed R&B reflects his upbringing; hip-hop, as storytelling platform, has a “complex relationship with homosexuality and images of masculinity”, aided by the reflexive hum of Nicholas Brittel’s score.

Little finds peace dancing; as Jenkins describes in the screenplay, “the first time all film, it looks like he might be having fun” in the rhythm and silliness. Chiron undergoes repentance for his sexuality in a playground fight with Kevin, becoming performance as other kids cheer, framed in circular motion. Like Marieme’s fight in the Parisian banlieue in Girlhood (2014), it becomes a show of strength neither party is entirely willing. McCraney comments black hypermasculinity is an “emasculation, craving attention within uneasy domestic situations.

Masculinity builds through vocabulary, oscillating between violence and empowerment in “faggot” and “nigga”; words, yet powerful. Queerness manifests as masculinity as kids compare dick size: it’s ugly; it’s a peanut; it’s Freddy Kruger. In one of the most powerful scenes, over a glass of juice, Little asks Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monáe) what a faggot is. Juan disconnects word and identity, implicitly reiterating it’s okay to be queer: Chiron can be gay, but “you don’t have to let nobody call you a faggot.” Little asks how he knows, and Juan doesn’t have an answer; he just thinks. The scene becomes a confessional within open space, barriers lifted; Little asks if him and Paula (Naomie Harris) do drugs. He nods.

As a teenager, Chiron endures constant bullying and taunts from Terrel (Patrick Decile): in Mr Pierce’s class, he reiterates that “gay niggas” croak of AIDS from white blood cell deficiency; implies Chiron is on his period. On the street, Terrel defends his heterosexuality, whilst attacking Paula’s sexual availability. Terrel’s attacks becomes almost flirting: he blows kisses and smiles, threatens to fuck his ass up, points out his “tight ass jeans”. Queerness became a target; pulled aside by the teacher, or threatened for fighting back, but without a solution to make bullying stop with half-hearted apologies. High school was a daily, isolating struggle, without anyone to talk to. Chiron conceals unvoiced emotion: he cries so much, he might “just turn into drops”. Black performs masculinity, having gone through juvie. Black doesn’t drink, refusing wine, choosing water; Kevin asks who he’s “doin’”, and he isn’t. Black and Kevin form duality, spending time in prison and in an exhausting job in Jimmy’s Eastside Diner, not “makin’ more than shoe money”, but content; Black has tried to block out his past life. Kevin escaped the streets; Black can’t escape it.

Race involves constant negotiation. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me (2015), “the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men”, disembodied as an act of terrorism. As Mahersha Ali comments, he requires “dexterity”, editing himself “in order to try and not draw attention” through how he walks, talks and dresses; even within the Muslim community, Ali faces controversy. As Coates describes of his childhood in Baltimore, “fully one third of my brain was concerned with […] the culture of the streets”.

Juan becomes a father figure, in the streets of Liberty City in a condemned crackhouse. As Hilton Als writes, “Juan is looking at his past while the boy looks up at a future he didn’t know he could have”. For Als, Juan subverts “Negro hyperbole”; rather than making Little a pimped drug runner, he feeds and nourishes. As Jenkins relates at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, our image of the black male is tainted, not controlled by black men; Jenkins refused so subvert the stereotype, but acknowledges its currency as something that walk[s] in with the audience into the cinema”. As Charles Bramesco writes, Jenkins imbues “stock figures native to fiction about poverty” with “finely shaded humanity”. Speaking at TIFF, McCraney acknowledges Juan derives from his own mentor, a drug dealer nicknamed Blue he misses dearly, who taught him how to ride a bike, admiring his “generosity of spirit”.

Ali appeared in Moonlight on days off from Luke Cage (2016), but his shadow dominates. Even in smaller roles in films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Ali elevates. In the cool, sea breeze, relating being a “lil’ bad ass”, Juan reminds Little that black people “was the first ones on this planet”. As Ali comments, Juan “sees a little piece of himself” in Little because of his otherness; as a dark skinned Cuban, Juan “identified with black culture” and tried to assimilate, without being African American.

Jenkins took advantage of bad weather as he moves the camera along with the waves of the ocean, water hitting the lens, working with Laxton to create a breathtaking sequence. As he acknowledges at the BFI, the scene is a “baptism”; “African-Americans in the Atlantic Ocean” is a powerful image, swimming “out into the abyss”. Little’s relationship with Juan embodies black ritual, what Wesley Lowery describes in They Can’t Kill Us All (2016) as the “talk”, a “set of warnings” passed down generationally of “self-awareness”, acknowledging one’s own embodiment as a “threat”. Chiron develops an awareness of his own black identity. As Coates reflects in Between the World and Me:

I understood the grip of my mother’s hand. She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine.

Chiron’s narrative is cyclical: he becomes Juan, driving a Chevy Impala with a BLACK license plate, adopting fake gold teeth, a crown on the dashboard, peddling drugs, unable to escape and construct his own identity. But Black realises his own construction: in the diner, he takes his teeth out; meeting his mother again, he cries. Black reaches into both theological and sociological debate: is his fate predestined, written into sins of the father, or is he able to escape it and perform his own self? Jenkins leaves open symbols and ambiguity, confronting us only with Chiron’s limited perspective, never experiencing Juan and Paula beyond his own world. As McCraney reflects, Chiron’s transformation is “emulation”, attempting to become “the thing he craved or loved” yet “missing out on the fundamental thing you want most”.

Jenkins embodies a rarely seen in cinema; film seems more interested in the water resorts of Tampa. Jenkins wanted to make the film for “people who might’ve grown up under similar circumstances”, depicting Liberty City as it actually is, chipped paint and cinderblocks, beyond the San Francisco of Medicine for Melancholy. Jenkins’ childhood was cramped, with “seven or eight of us in a two-bed apartment”, often going without food. Paula acts as a composite between McCraney and Jenkins’ mothers; McCraney’s late mother suffered from HIV, whilst Jenkins’ was an addict and nurse, never knowing who his real dad was. McCraney wrote the script in 2003 in the aftermath of his mother’s death and his rejection from Yale. As he tells the BFI, the play became a cathartic diary:

My mother had just died, I had no school to go to, no job to go to, and I was just sort of stuck, in a way, so I sort of created this thing, and it was full of pain; it was full of me trying to recount how I got to this painful moment, how I got to this guilt moment.

Harris was conflicted on Paula’s representation, feeling there were enough “one-dimensional black women in the media”, but, as she tells at TIFF, found she “had so much judgement” around crack addiction, not seeing the “beating heart”, self-hatred and the “demon” within Paula. In the hallway, Jenkins sought to symbolise distance that cannot be traversed between Chiron and his mother, a space of darkness. Chiron and Paula maintain an uneasy relationship, through poverty, addiction and sexuality, seeking time both away from and with Chiron. Desperate for money, she forces Chiron to give her the last of his, because she is his flesh and blood. Teresa becomes a friendly figure to Chiron, teaching what his mother can’t: allowing him to stay any time, showing how to make a bed. Speaking in the commentary, invoking Eisenstein, Jenkins argues “information is in the cut”, creating an understated sense of Juan’s “sudden absence” and its effect on Paula and Teresa’s relationship. As Black, he visits her in rehab in Atlanta; Paula, in desperation and anguish, acknowledges she “fucked it all up”, and that Chiron can escape the streets.

Chiron becomes trapped by institutions supposed to protect him. As Coates writes in Between the World and Me, society only protects some with “a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth”, whilst allowing a black “infirmity before the criminal forces of the world”. Principal Williams lends a sympathetic ear to Chiron, insisting he isn’t being punished, doing nothing wrong, suggesting he identify the culprit to the fight and press charges; Chiron has no response but silence. Chiron’s school emanates a sense of entrapment. As Jenkins describes in the screenplay:

This building did not exist a decade ago; its older, decrepit predecessor demolished and replaced with this vision built most in the image of a prison, constructed by the same money and resources used to erect those spaces and ultimately with the same intention: to keep all who enter watched and in.

Chiron gives into impulse, neither in right nor wrong, voicing the violence teenage selves wished to perform, breaking a chair on Terrel’s head in retaliation, paying the price in handcuffs within a classroom built upon fighting. As Coates reflects, “the streets and the schools” are “arms of the same beast” in a culture of fear and violence, falling back into the streets. Speaking of the scene in a broadcast interview in The Atlantic, Coates reflects on how Chiron is now in the system, punished for attempting to stand up and protect himself. Jenkins was inspired by a real-life incident he witnessed on the Metro, as a group of friends tripped each other over; the kids were never the same again. Jenkins wonders if the film can allow the kid to “understand what was lost in that moment”, still feeling guilt over his subjectivity.

Black cinema’s position is redefined from the visibility gained from the protests surrounding Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement, revealing inequalities present for decades. As he tells the BFI, Jenkins feels conflicted over the film’s temporal position, developed “under a completely different regime”, carrying different currency under a new president. As Adam Shatz argues, unlike the historical 12 Years a Slave (2014) and Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, Moonlight is not an act of protest, but affirmation.

material_1
Material #1 (2015)

As years pass, cinema’s space inhabiting Ferguson’s spaces is shifting, Warner Bros developing a biopic on Brown’s life. Through protracted production cycles, Ferguson’s impact is felt more deeply through the realms of documentary, comics and fiction, with series like Material (2015) and Black (2016-17) responding to events and seeking empowerment. In the young adult novel The Hate U Give (2017), Angie Thomas closes the gap between Tupac and our current generation, showing he still has lessons for us to learn. Short film pieces like Stop (2014) allow us to witness the indignities of racial profiling on a young black athlete.

I Am Not Your Negro offers perhaps our closest cinematic post-Ferguson narrative, juxtaposing the words of Baldwin against news images of Ferguson protests, expressing continual relevancy. But in shaping a “popular narrative”, Peck divorces its context from the 1960s and diminishes Baldwin’s queer identity. But black revolt carries forth through other ways: in Chi-Raq (2015), Lee empowers black women against male sexuality whilst attacking the prevalence of gun violence, establishment use of the confederate flag and the double-bind between gangs and the police. In Get Out (2017), we sense the fear of erasure of culture and assimilation into white neighbourhoods, where black bodies become fetishized and police violence a looming threat.

Though Moonlight never focuses explicitly upon institutional police brutality or other forms of racism or oppression, it remains insightful with clues to how the black community is perceived and perceives itself, beyond heavy-handed white-serving narratives.

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