Editor’s note: This article contains some spoilers.
The Movie “Moonlight” hit theaters around the country in September 2016. Many are describing the film as a coming of age tale. Some are calling it a love story between two same gender loving African men, however the film is about so much more as it exposes the cold reality of colonized Africans living in the warm sunny paradise that is Miami, FL.
Chiron, the main character’s sexuality appears as more of a backdrop to the conditions of the character’s life and those around him as a result of colonialism instead of the other way around.
The film opens with a young Chiron running from the boys in his neighborhood as they taught him and call him anti-homosexual names. The scene is that of the typical slums that many of us African working class people are forced to live in due to parasitic capitalism and gentrification.
The film, however, does not provide the context to explain what drives Africans to take on anti-homosexual beliefs and behaviors but it is clear to any African Internationalist that it is the result of colonization.
The opening scene was set in the 1980s during the height of the U.S. drug counterinsurgency against Africans, and Miami was the epicenter for cocaine distribution throughout the African community.
Miami’s economic development was literally built off of the resource from the capitalist drug economy, yet those resources never made it to the African community. It is in this context that the contradiction imposed on the characters by colonialism arise.
The contrast between the natural beauty of south Florida and the abandoned houses and block style housing projects of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood is what makes this movie a unique piece of art as the director played back and forth with these images.
Intracommunal relationships under colonialism
“Moonlight” did a good job showcasing how African working class people struggle to maintain a sense of humanity and healthy family and communal relationships under colonialism.
Chiron’s mother, Paula, is first shown as the hardworking and loving figure in the child’s life that she is before it is ever revealed to the viewer that she is dealing with a crack addiction.
She is even given a scene of total redemption towards the end of the film where she is sober from drugs and gives Chiron the advice he needs to move on just when he needs it. This is something we rarely see when movies portray drug addiction in our communities.
Young Chiron is found hiding from the neighborhood kids in an abandoned building by a drug dealer named Juan. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa takes the boy into their home, feed him and act as a set of godparents to him.
Juan’s character defies colonial stereotypes of African men being uncaring fathers and “homophobic.” He and Theresa gave Chiron the physical and emotional safety he needed as well as helped him navigate understanding society and the different views on sexuality.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Juan sees Chiron’s mother getting high and attempts to stop her and scold her for not being home with her child. She then challenges him for being the one who provides the drugs to the community that she then buys from a street dealer.
She raises the contradiction around the idea that he cares for Chiron but sells drugs to Chiron’s mother and the rest of his community. Juan is speechless to this criticism but the look on his face in that moment of silence says more than words.
He is speechless because he is confronted with his powerlessness.
In order for him to live in decent and comfortable conditions under colonialism, he must sell drugs to his people. If not, he would find himself in the same poverty and anguish that drives his people to drugs in the first place.
We are never allowed to see African men especially drug dealers show conscience or feelings of accountability to our people. The exchange between the two is passionate and rooted out of a genuine love for each other and Chiron.
The struggles of African men remain constant despite who we love
Chiron continues to be the source of taunts by his peers up into his teenage years. He, however, has one male friend from childhood, Kevin, that the movie shows him having his first sexual experience with. It is this same friend who gives into peer pressure and attacks Chiron in a game of “knock out,” where innocent people get knocked out.
The film exposes the U.S. public school system as an arm of the State when Chiron is arrested and sent to a prison camp for retaliating against one of his main abusers.
The school administrators were well aware of the fact that Chiron was being abused by his peers. They were even more aware of the conditions in which all of their students lives under. This, however, did not stop them from criminalizing Chiron at their first chance.
Chiron’s mother then takes him to Atlanta to start a new life. He grows up to become drug dealer himself. He is also still repressed and emotionally withdrawn as he was during his childhood. He is shown ignoring his mother’s phone messages begging to see him.
He hides behind the image of gold teeth and chrome rims on his car and has been stunted and limited by colonialism’s version of what an African man should be.
It is during a visit to his mother who at that point was sober and living in a facility where she helped other addicts when she sees the unhappiness in his eyes. She encouraged him to heal from his hurt and begin taking control of his own life.
Colonialism keeps us from reaching our fullest potential as people
Chiron received a revelation from his mother and was able to embrace her as his mother for the first time after spending so many years of being ashamed of and angry at her. She too was able to express her love for him and could finally take on the role of motherhood again that her circumstances under colonialism had denied her for so many years.
He travels back to Miami after receiving a phone call from his childhood friend and first love experience. The two reunite and we discover that his childhood friend had also spent time incarcerated. Chiron admits to his loneliness and identity struggles after his friend exposes the changes that have occurred in him since they were last together.
The movie closes with Kevin holding Chiron.
Colonialism was constantly interrupting Chiron’s life just as it did the history and progression of African people in general. The film gives us a story book ending of healing and forgiveness among Africans which is important.
However, the reality is that there is no healing for the African working class masses until colonialism has been destroyed.
“The only cure for the colonized is to kill the colonizer.”
We were never meant to be drug addicts, prostitutes and dealers. It was the colonial and imperialist assault on Africa and its people that gave birth to U.S. and European wealth as well as African poverty and despair.
It also birthed ideas and standards for gender and sexuality among our people that did not previously exist before being colonized.
It is clear to us that when it comes to poverty, drugs, horizontal violence and the bashing of homosexuals in African communities; all roads lead to colonialism.
“Moonlight” doesn’t explain this in its dialogue. Chiron, at the end of the movie had no more clue as to the reason he faced the circumstances he did than he was when the film opens with him as a child.
The movie doesn’t deliver any political narrative but at the least it shows the victims of the system in more than one dimension so we can see that they are otherwise normal people who are capable of healthier interactions and behaviors if not for their colonized state.
It is the science of African Internationalism that explains what and why we as a people do not reach our fullest potential on this planet.
Without it, we are left struggling to piece together the reasons for our material existence instead of struggling to overturn them.
End the Struggle!