When a film’s central theme is homosexuality, there are a few things one can expect: that the homosexual characters are likely to be men, that they are probably white, and that the main issue of the film is likely to be emphasised explicitly multiple times throughout the film. However, sometimes films like “Moonlight” come out, which – despite having a male protagonist – defy these unwritten conventions.
In “Moonlight”, we see a section of society that is rarely shown on screen. We see the struggle a closeted gay man has to face for his entire life, as homophobia is much stronger than elsewhere in the poor neighbourhood he lives in. He is a black man, and this is central to the film. There are no white actors, and this lack of comparison forces white audiences to consider the characters’ lives as they are, not being able to compare them with anything else. This is at once an implicit political statement (as white heterosexual people discover what it is like to watch films with characters they cannot immediately relate to) and a chance for minorities to have a story they can make their own.
Chiron’s inability to achieve self-realisation is frustrating, but is also what makes this film so special, and what makes its meaning relatable. His friendship with Kevin is doomed by their love for each other, whose expression is made impossible by their homophobic society. This is reflected in the film’s structure: the three parts narrate a very short period of Chiron’s life, and the fact that there are many years between a chapter and the next forces the audience to accept the fact that they know very little about the protagonist’s life. This Brechtian approach makes people more aware of the artifice of the film they are watching, and encourages them to find more meaning in it.
“Moonlight” is poetic, clever, realistic, and smart. By showing and saying less, it conveys more. This is an example of how the most simple films are often the most meaningful and moving, as their priority is being genuine. Hopefully, this will be acknowledged and praised by the Academy, giving more visibility to films usually deemed “not mainstream enough” for widespread theatrical release.