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Themes of Gender, Sexuality, Race, and Class in "Moonlight"

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Did I ever imagine, during my anxious, closeted childhood, that I’d live long enough to see a movie like “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’s brilliant, achingly alive new work about black queerness? Did any gay man who came of age, as I did, in the era of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and aids, think he’d survive to see a version of his life told onscreen with such knowledge, unpredictability, and grace? Based on a story by the gay black playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney—Jenkins himself is not gay—the film is virtuosic in part because of Jenkins’s eye and in part because of the tale it tells, which begins in nineteen-eighties Miami.

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Toxic masculinity is defined by Kupers (2005) as encompassing socially regressive male traits that “serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homop hobia, and wantonviolence". Each aspect of this definition is visible in the interactions between male characters inMoonlight. For instance, the desire to assert domination is very closely linked with displays of violence, especially seen in Chiron’s childhood. After withdrawing himself from a game of rough play, his only friend, Kevin, questions why he allows the other boys to see him as ‘soft'. Chiron'sverbal declaration that ‘I ain’t soft' does not seem to be sufficient, and his only means of corroboration is to wrestle. Although this scene depicts an amiable fight between the twoacquaintances, their unspoken agreement on physical prowess as the paragon of masculinity isa point of reference. They understand that the primary way for them to demonstrate their ‘hardness' is to physically conquer one another. They also accept that the reason for Chiron's exclusion from the in- group of young boys is his failure to ‘perform' this idealised version of masculinity. Kupers further refers to "the need to aggressively compete and dominate others" as oneof the most problematic inclinations under the influence of toxic masculinity. This notion is developed in the second chapter of the movie, where Kevin is persuaded to play a game of ‘Knock Down, Stay Down', which requires him to attack someone until they are unable to get up. His peers hold him in high esteem for his previous ‘performance' of brutality, and in order tomaintain this reputation for being ‘hard', Kevin is led to betray his friendship by preying on Chiron

The game itself might be seen as a metonym for this impression of toxic masculinitywhereby some are uplifted for their ability to dominate, which is inextricably bound with the ability to suppress. As one who is victimized for not being ‘hard' enough, Chiron's only options are to ‘stay down' or to endure more abuse. It is this very urge to dominate that eventually sends both Chiron and Kevin to prison, which is a testament to its toxicity. Through thesedepictions of physical violence, Jenkins allows us to contemplate the glorified notions ofmasculinity and its internalization into the psyche of adolescent boys.

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The film is consisted of three parts as Little, Chiron and Black. The names represents the life stages of the main character Chiron. In the first stage, the character is represented as a withdrawn child who is subject to bullying by peers. Chiron is found by Juan where he hides from the bullies

On the same day, Chiron stays with Juan and his girlfriend Teresa. The day after, they take him back to his house. Here we realize that Chiron’s mother Paula is a drug dealer. In the next stage of the film, Chiron is represented as a withdrawn teenager. This time he is being bullied by a classmate, named Terrel. On the other hand, we realize that Chiron is still meeting Teresa who lives alone since Juan's death. This time Paula is represented as being a sex worker in relation with her drug addiction. One night Chiron and his friend Kevin meet at the beach and after a while they start to kiss. It is also in the second stage of the film when Chiron smashes a chair into Terrel's back in the classroom. In the final stage, Chiron is represented as an adult who deals drugs. The war on drugs policies and media representations in the US-America, which targets African American population have conveyed the message that black people and criminality are inextricably related (Welch 2007, pp. 280-283). In parallel to this, Moonlight reflects this stereotypical link between drugs and black population. Nevertheless, there is an important progressive point in Moonlight, which is worth being considered: it is a film with an all-black cast. That is to say, it offers new possibilities for diverse representations. Even though the film confirms the stereotype of black people of lower class as using and selling drugs, it also represents middle-class characters such as black teachers and black police officers throughout the film, which normalizes the idea that African American population is heterogeneous (Willig, C 2008).

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To conclude, while there’s memorable dialogue in “Moonlight,” it’s what’s unsaid that really resonates. It’s the look of a morally complex father figure when a child asks him why other kids call him a bad word. It’s a nervous glance between two young men who know something is a little different about their relationship but society has given them no words to express it. And it’s in the final scenes of the film—in which Jenkins knows he’s laid the groundwork, trusts his actors and allows the emotions of what’s unsaid to provide the dramatic thrust—that “Moonlight” makes its greatest impact. Jenkins deeply understands that it is human connection that forms us, that changes our trajectory and makes us who we are.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2016, Results from the 2015 national survey on drug use and health: national findings, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://www. oas. samhsa. gov/nsduh/2k5nsduh/2k5Results. pdf. >

Thornham, S 1997, Passionate Detachments: An Introduction to Feminist Film Theory, Arnold, London; New York.

Watercutter, A 2015, ‘Tangerine Is Amazing—But Not Because of How They Shot It’, Wired, .

Willig, C 2008, Introducing qualitative research methods in psychology, Maidenhead, England: McGraw Hill.

Welch, K 2007, ‘Black criminal stereotypes and racial profiling’, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol. 23 no. 3, pp. 276-288

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