“Moonlight” normalizes racism. It also perpetrates stereotypes about homosexuality and the repressive conditions of blacks in a country that has been carrying on an incremental genocide against this minority since the first slaves were brought here. As in “Brokeback Mountain,” Hollywood maintains its kneejerk assertion that gays must always be punished for harboring non-conformist sexual ideas. It’s only rich white people who get to indulge in wild sex fantasies (think “50 Shades Of Grey”). In “Moonlight,” black on black violence is the norm.
Here is a movie designed to make white audiences proud of the tears they shed in a darkened theater because those salty drops of water prove just how sensitive they are, except not really. Sentimentality comes cheap, especially when it’s about a gay black guy running back into the arms of the man who betrayed him in a violent and humiliating way years earlier.
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s stage play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins shows black characters that, regardless of how much the film’s well-cast actors elevate the baited source material, come across as cartoon people with limited intellects and imaginations.
Split into a three-act structure, the time-jumping narrative follows 10-year-old Chiron, a.k.a. “Little” (Alex Hibbert), a frightened weakling constantly bullied and harassed by boys in his economically depressed South Florida neighborhood. That fact that Chiron’s dad is long gone, and that his mother is a nurse and a crack addict, puts the boy under the mentorship of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer with a soft side. Juan might not be an ideal surrogate father, but beggars like Chiron can be choosers. At least Juan isn’t a pedophile, or is he?
At school, Chiron’s detractors identify him as gay even before his first sexual experimentation goes in that direction. The power of peer suggestion is strong in this oversimplifies setting.
Cut to act two where Ashton Sanders plays a teenage version of Chiron who enjoys a moonlit handjob and a kiss with his pal Kevin. Alas, Chiron’s dreams of romantic fulfillment are short-lived when Kevin turns on him in a disgusting scene of physical, emotional, and intellectual abuse that seals Chiron’s fate for the years that follow.
The filmmakers allow Chiron a few moments of doomed emotional satisfaction in a narrative that barely hints at the racist system pulling the strings. Chiron deserves more than the hug he eventually receives, or the return to prison he seems destined for if he survives the unseen encounters with he will most certainly experience.
Rated R. 110 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five / no halves)