The film Moonlight creates a discussion about black men dealing with masculinity issues and finding a true identity. This film uses the symbolism of water to depict the different aspects of Chiron’s life that slowly help develop his identity. I believe that the use of water is signifying the idea of change.
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One important scene from this movie was during the first act when Juan teaches Chiron how to swim. This moment is when the relationship between Juan and Chiron really transformed. Chiron began to look up to Juan, as Juan was the only father figure that he has in his life. This scene allowed the two to bond and form an everlasting connection. The importance of the swimming lessons was to teach him how to keep his head above the water, not just literally but figuratively as well. It was the idea that no matter how many obstacles that Chiron will face, he always needed to keep his head up. Juan’s presence was always in the film because of the impact that he had on Chiron. As Chiron continued to grow throughout the film, Juan was always an important figure that was in Chiron’s mind as he began to find his own identity.
Within the next act, Chiron had a sexual relationship at that same exact beach with Kevin. This intimate moment had the sounds of waves crashing into the shore as Chiron is finally vulnerable with Kevin. This scene was very important because it allowed Chiron to stop worrying about his masculinity and just be in the moment, be who he really is. This was a defining moment for Chiron because it allowed him to create his own identity. He allowed himself to go against societal norms, he was a gay black man. The scene next scene after this moment really pushed Chiron back to the identity that society expects him to be.
When Terrel told Kevin to beat up Chiron, Kevin did. This was a moment that had changed Chiron. After that moment, Chiron accumulated up all of his emotions and threw them out the window. He stopped caring about his own identity and started to become what society expects of a black man. Nixon explained, “among blacks, ‘culture’ coincided with ‘nature’” . As society stereotypes blacks to act a certain way, the movie also depicts Terrel, the bully, as a symbol of society’s expectation of blacks and male masculinity. This is where the water aspect resurfaces. After Chiron was beaten up, it shows him immersing his face in a sink filled with ice water. When he looks up and into the mirror, the depth in his eyes was gone and he was changed. He gave in to the pressures of masculinity and gave up his innocence. This is when he fought back and hit Terrel with a chair.
The third act started off with the same image of Chiron splashing water onto his face, but this image of Chiron was drastically different. He had conformed to the expectations of masculinity and ‘hardness’ that his culture had shown him. The identity that emerged was a muscular man with gold chains. We learned that he was a drug dealer, and many aspects of his life resemble Juan. Chiron had ultimately gone through many nicknames; Little, Chiron, and Black. As he went through nicknames, he also went through emotions that were felt. These emotions were symbolized with the help of the water. He first built trust with Juan, he then was fearful of his identity with Kevin and Terrel, and towards the last scene showed an idea of self-acceptance. The last scene was an image of Chiron when he was younger. Standing at the beach, watching the waves. I think this was an important moment that really emphasized the importance of water. This showed that the water had a dual meaning. A meaning of freedom- when he was at the beach with Kevin, and a meaning of danger- when he had transformed himself into society’s norms.
The idea of the duality of the water reminded me of DuBois’s article. DuBois claimed, “this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…. One feels his twoness,— two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” . This idea reflects on Chiron and his identity of who he wanted to be. He could be himself- the freedom of the water. He could be vulnerable and be a gay, black man. Or he could live to society’s expectations- the danger of the water. He could be the toxic masculinity of a black drug dealer.
Movie 'Moonlight'. (2021, May 24).
Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from
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