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New film Moonlight "dares to let black men love"


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Village Voice film critic Melissa Anderson heaps glowing praise on the new film Moonlight by US director Barry Jenkins. The film follows a young gay African American man through three stages of his life: the age of nine, the age of sixteen, and the age of twenty-six. As Anderson writes, the film’s frank, tender portrayals of black male desire are rendered all the more poignant by the current political context of unspeakable violence visited on black bodies in the US. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

A betrayal in the second section leads to more than one reconciliation in the third and to an even swoonier kind of romance. In his mid-twenties and now living in Atlanta, Black, the sobriquet bestowed on Chiron by Kevin in high school, has entered his onetime mentor’s profession and has built up a carapace of muscle. A phone call from Kevin (played as an adult by André Holland), the first time Black has heard from him in a decade, prompts a drive back to Florida and a reunion that — filled with so much pain, regret, omission, tenderness, and love — is almost too much to bear. Here, again, the film calls attention subtly yet sharply, in a few lines of dialogue, to appalling realities of warehoused black male bodies, of the prison-industrial complex. “I got sent up for some stupid shit,” Kevin, grinning, tells his old friend as they’re catching up in the diner where he now does double-duty as a waiter and cook. “Same stupid shit they always put us away for.”

After the restaurant clears out, Kevin plays a song on the jukebox for Black — I won’t name the title for fear of ruining the surprise; the track, like all the others heard in Moonlight, beautifully distills a mood. The lyrics serve as an apology and maybe even a seduction. Both times that I’ve watched Moonlight, I’ve been reminded of a work that precedes it by almost thirty years and that was made in an entirely different idiom: Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied (1989), a personal video essay full of spoken-word poetry and monologues about desire, shame, and racism that declares “black men loving black men is the revolutionary act.” In Jenkins’s film, that love — whether carnal, paternal, or something else — has many permutations. It also need not extend to another person. “I’m me, man,” Black replies when Kevin asks him that key question mentioned above, a declaration of ever-endangered pride and self-worth.

Still from Moonlight via the Village Voice.