Moonlight, the 2017 Oscar Best Picture winner, is a modest masterpiece that can teach us the value of being true to ourselves and acknowledging our inner tenderness.
We are victims of our environment. We adapt to society’s norms and other’s expectations. It’s hard to know how we truly are when we are always told how we should be. We want to fit in, so we put on stereotypical masks and hide our true self behind clothes, lifestyles and attitudes. In psychology, this phenomenon is called conformity. It is the way we fall for group pressure, both in small scale and in big scale. We do like the group do, because we fear being excluded from the group. Conformity can happen both consciously and unconsciously. It is a survival instinct; belonging to the pack means safety, defying the pack means vulnerability.
In Moonlight, Chiron (or Black, or Little) is raised in an environment where men are expected to be tough and ’macho’. The stereotypical black man is the drug slinger, the muscle, the hip hop gangster. Chiron does not fit into the norm, which makes him stigmatized and bullied.
Juan—who is Chiron’s main role-model and father figure—is a drug dealer, but he also has a soft and tender side that he reveals only to Chiron and Teresa. He tells Chiron: ”At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
Juan doesn’t want Chiron to pretend to be someone he is not just to fit in. But the problem is Juan himself is doing that exact thing: he pretends to be a tough drug-dealer, though he is tender on the inside.
Children do what grown-ups do, not what they say. Thus when Chiron grows up, he becomes a drug dealer like Juan. He gets an expensive car, fancy clothes, gets beefy, etc, to build an image of himself as a tough gangster. But that’s not who he really is. He suppresses his true self and becomes a stereotype. He has been looked down upon all his life, and he doesn’t want that anymore. So he becomes the person who looks down upon others.
“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”
This is where the film title comes from. It is from a story Juan tells Chiron about when he was a child, he was running without shoes in the night and an old lady told him ”in moonlight, black boys look blue.” This is not just a funny story, it is important for the theme of the film. Otherwise it wouldn’t be in the title.
But what does it mean?
Chiron’s most genuine and revealing moments are at night, in the moonlight. The beach scene with Kevin is the first time Chiron shows his true sexuality. And in the end sequence, Chiron’s true feelings for Kevin are exposed. These scenes both take place at night, and they help us understand the meaning of moonlight and blue. In the moonlight, in the night, people drop their tough facade and show their true, tender selves. They become “blue”. In the moonlight, even the toughest have a softness. In moonlight black boys are blue, and we see who they really are.
The film poster portrays Chiron’s inner struggle to define who he is. It shows three sides of himself, at three stages in life: as Little, vulnerable in blue light; as Black, tough in grey light; and Chiron, confused in the middle in red light. Children are mainly ’unspoiled’ by society’s norms, thus Little is blue. Chiron as a teenager is struggling to fit in, trying to bridge the gap between who he is and who he is expected to be. As an adult, Black has taken on the role of a tough gangster, though that’s not who he is on the inside. Chiron’s insecure adolescence and the rough environment made him lose track of himself and fall into a role.
Kevin managed to find himself, but Chiron didn’t. Kevin says in the end: ”Never did anything I actually wanted to do, was all I could do to do what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”
All people go through this struggle in some way. Some win, like Kevin, and manager to find and live out their true identity. While some, like Chiron, are unable to break free from the demands and expectations of other people.
Moonlight is a plea for authenticity and tenderness. The journey to find yourself is long and hard for everyone, but if we have compassion for each other, it gets a bit easier. After all, we are all equally fragile, even though we may not show it. We need moments when we can be our true, tender selves, and we need people we can be ourselves with. Moonlight teaches us not to judge other’s by their appearances, because we are all vulnerable under the masks we put on.
In the moonlight, we are all blue.