Entertainment, Film

Moonlight: A masterful meditation on race, sexuality and addiction

As a writer, sometimes a work of art, whether it’s music, a movie, play or painting, compels you to write in an inevitably futile effort to do it justice. Moonlight, directed and written by Barry Jenkins, is such a film.

It’s a work primarily concerned with transcending the past while being true to oneself and the social structures that stand in the way, particularly for a gay African-American from a broken home.

The film follows Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) through three phases of his life, played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, respectively.

i. Little

We first meet him as a child, or “Little”, as he’s then known, through the eyes of Juan, played by Mahershala Ali. You may recognize him from Netflix series House of Cards and Luke Cage.

After finding Little hiding out in a shed on his property, Juan takes him under his wing, serving as a father figure in the absence of his biological father. The audience discovers soon after that Juan is a crack dealer who sells to Little’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), and her boyfriend.

Juan also gives the boy money out of apparent guilt and pity for feeding his mother’s addiction. He’s giving back to Little what he takes from his mother.

Chiron’s mother is emotionally abusive, calling her son a “faggot” in a scene that is muted, emphasizing the hurtfulness of the slur. The audience literally has to read her lips to figure out what she’s saying.

In the next scene, Little asks Juan what that word means, to which he responds that it’s a homophobic slur. “You can be gay, but don’t let anyone call you no faggot,” Juan says, providing Little with the emotional support and comfort his mother should be giving.

In the first part, Little appears at Juan’s house whenever he is distressed by his situation at home.

“There are black people all over the world and we need to stick together,” he advises Chiron. The rest of the film depicts the exact opposite, providing a glimpse into the internal struggles of the black community.

ii. Chiron

In the second act, we see Chiron, whose sexual orientation at this point is known throughout the community and his high school, bullied severely by fellow African-Americans. The bullies pressure Kevin (Andre Holland), Chiron’s secret lover, to beat him to a bloody pulp. Not wanting them to suspect that he too is gay, Kevin obliges.

Chiron doesn’t want to be a snitch on his lover, so he declines to press charges, taking matters into his own hands. In one of the film’s more difficult scenes to watch, he barges into school and breaks a chair over the lead bully’s head, for which he’s sent to juvenile detention.

iii. Black

When he emerges in the third act, Chiron has reinvented himself, starting a new life in Atlanta. He’s come full circle as a drug dealer referred to as “Black”. He’s now a symbol of rugged, heterosexual masculinity. He’s muscular and dresses with grills and a gold chain. He also has a crown on the dashboard of his car, as Juan did, from which he blares gangsta rap.

Without giving too much away, he’s reunited with Kevin, telling him “I’m trapped,” which is an apt summation of the film’s major overarching theme.

Take me to the river, drop me in the water

Water is a particularly potent symbol in Moonlight. Juan teaches Little to swim near the film’s beginning, solidifying his fatherly status.

More importantly, it’s where Chiron goes in the second act to escape his crack-addicted mother’s continual  abuse, which now includes pestering him for money, where he smokes his first blunt and has his first homosexual experience with Kevin. We also see Chiron dunk his head in ice water as a symbol of exasperation, both after Kevin beats him up and after he’s arrested for his vigilante justice.

The film’s title is also symbolic in this sense. Just as moonlight reflects on the water, so too does the past reflect on the present and future.  Moonlight also provides light in darkness, which is represented by Black’s reunion with Kevin in the third act.

Rich in symbolism and with excellent performances all around, Moonlight may very well be the best film I saw in 2016. It provides a powerful contrast to Marvel and Star Wars’ highly profitable, and I’ll concede often entertaining, explosion porn.

 

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Published Articles

Everything you need to know about the federal Conservative leadership frontrunners

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at This

The Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race, scheduled to conclude in May 2017, is off to an inauspicious start. Between fights in the name of “Canadian values” and hot takes on same-sex marriage, the candidates appear to be competing to see who can advocate the most regressive policies, with a few notable exceptions.

This takes a look at the five frontrunners—Kellie Leatch, Brad Trost, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Lisa Raitt—and their respective proposals for immigration, social issues, the environment and the economy.

Kellie Leitch

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Leitch’s signature proposal is “screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors for anti-Canadian values.” Her website boasts, “Kellie is the only candidate who will ensure that those coming to Canada believe in the equality of women, freedom of religion, and equality under law,” but is short on details on how she plans to achieve this.

According to a recent interview with Toronto Life, the Simcoe Grey MP opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, supports gay marriage, and identifies as anti-abortion.

She vows to repeal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national carbon tax if elected, insisting that carbon pricing should be left to the provinces.

Leitch vows to balance the budget by instituting a cap on government spending. Her website hints at mass privatization when it says that the government must “find new ways to get things done—new ways that don’t involve increasing taxes or borrowing money.”

Brad Trost

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Though critical of Leitch’s vague “Canadian values” test, Trost (Saskatoon-University) said in an emailed statement that he wants to distinguish between immigrants who “Choose Canada” for its values and those who “Use Canada” for its public services.

Trost is staunchly opposed to gay marriage, wants “legislation to protect pre-born victims of crime,” and supports tough on crime legislation. “Catch and release is great for fishing, but not so great for criminals,” he said.

“I don’t think the uncertain science around climate change should be leveraged to force producers to leave oil and gas and coal in the ground,” he wrote, contending that the negative of job losses from reducing fossil fuel dependence outweigh the positives.

Trost aims “to keep corporate and income taxes LOW (sic),” which he said would be his main priority as prime minister.

Maxime Bernier

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Bernier “plans to make an announcement on immigration later in the campaign,” says spokesman Maxime Hupe.

The Beauce, Que. MP supported the removal of the party’s “definition of marriage as being the union between a man and a woman” at its May 2016 policy convention in Vancouver, according to his website.

However, he vowed to reopen the abortion debate if party members request it, allowing a free vote. This is despite the vehemently anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition rating him as consistently pro-abortion and therefore “not supportable.”

“Our prosperity is, and will remain for decades to come, dependent on fossil fuels to a large extent,” his website reads. He calls advocates of national carbon taxation “extremist green activists” who “want to see their standard of living significantly reduced to contribute in a negligible way to the global fight against climate change.”

Bernier advocates leaving the issue of carbon taxation up to the provinces and allowing the private sector to develop green energy of its own accord.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto, Bernier called for a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 10 per cent from 15 percent and the outright abolition of capital gains taxes.

Michael Chong

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Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills) seeks to maintain the status quo on immigration, noting in a statement that immigrants and refugees are already “screened for criminality, war crimes, terrorism, health, and economic reasons.” Leitch’s proposal to vet newcomers for “Canadian values” is thus “not workable.”

He also vows not to “reopen divisive social issues,” namely those that have already been decided by Parliament, like abortion, same-sex marriage, and assisted suicide.

An outlier amongst the leadership candidates, Chong advocates a carbon tax, albeit one that is revenue neutral, to discourage fossil fuel consumption and reach the international target for emission reductions by 2030. 

To make up for the carbon tax, Chong vows to slash personal income taxes by 10 percent and corporate taxes by 5 percent.

Lisa Raitt

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The Campaign Life Coalition rates Raitt as “unsupportable” due to her participation in the 2016 Toronto Pride parade and pro-abortion voting record. However, the group notes her opposition to assisted suicide, which she attributes to her Catholic faith.

In parliament, she vocally opposed the federal Liberals’ carbon taxation plan, advocating corporate solutions to what she acknowledges as the reality of man-made climate change.

During the party’s November leadership debate in Saskatoon, Raitt hinted at a reduction of inter-provincial trade barriers as a central tenet of her fiscal policies.

As the most recent addition to the leadership race, the Milton MP has yet to outline specific proposals on most issues, nor did her office respond to requests for comment. 

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

A reprieve for Dakota land defenders, a warning for Canada

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

While many Canadians “checked in” on Facebook to Standing Rock Reservation near Cannonball, North Dakota, to express solidarity with the Great Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, some of their compatriots went down to join the anti-pipeline struggle in what has become its epicentre.

The battle pits the Sioux band, who have set up a protest camp, and its supporters against a militarized Morton County sheriff’s department and the National Guard. The latter have used mass arrests and force in an effort to crush the movement fighting Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ planned $3.8-billion, 1,900-km pipeline that snakes across four states from western North Dakota to Illinois, threatening Indigenous heritage sites and the drinking water below.

On December 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the company approval to drill under the Missouri River, forcing it to find another route, but the decision is subject to appeal and can be reversed by the incoming Trump administration.

“We’ve been able to greatly rattle the inevitability narrative that big oil continues to weave into the minds of the public,” Clayton Thomas-Muller, the environmental justice group 350.org’s Keep It in the Ground campaigner, told the Monitor from Standing Rock in the wake of the U.S. army’s announcement.

In response to the potentially historic decision, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement expressing special gratitude to “all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us,” promising to return the favour “if and when your people are in need.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s late-November approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will pump Alberta tarsands oil to the coastal town of Burnaby, B.C., for shipping to Asia, and Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin, means the Standing Rock Sioux will soon have the opportunity to reciprocate in Western Canada.

“Justin Trudeau needs to understand that we’ve faced tougher foes than him and we have removed them from power,” Thomas-Muller, a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, said. “His administration will bend to the will of the Indigenous rights and climate justice social movements. I guarantee it.”

If it gets built, the Trans Mountain expansion will increase an existing pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels from 300,000, casting doubt over the government’s climate change commitments and vows to improve relations with First Nations.

“Even though it’s down in the United States, our struggle as First Nations is the same everywhere,” said Snookie Catholique of the Dene Nation. The former CBC journalist and Northwest Territories language commissioner had just returned from her second trip to Standing Rock in mid-November when she spoke to the Monitor. “We’re all fighting to protect Mother Earth and for a better, cleaner environment, so that my grandchildren will have the experience I had as a child.”

Thomas-Muller said stewardship of the environment is an essential component of the Indigenous rights movement. “Our livelihoods, our cosmology and our worldview are fundamentally tied to the relationship that we have with the sacredness of place,” he said. “Environmentalism is, for us, a human rights issue.”

***

Kevin Settee, president of the University of Winnipeg Student Association and a member of Fisher River Cree Nation, also made the trip down to Standing Rock with two comrades in late August. He said part of the reason he went was to send a message to people back home “not to let the United States border divide them and stop them from going south [to support social movements].” Thomas-Muller concurred, calling it a “false border.”

Settee said he sought to learn organization tactics from the demonstrators that he could apply to environmentalist and Indigenous movements back home. “Why is what they’re doing so powerful?” he pondered.

Settee and his allies were some of the first people from Winnipeg to make it down to the protest. When crossing the border, at around 2 a.m., they told the guards they were going to a powwow, fearing that if they told them they were going to Standing Rock they would get turned away.

“Some people said they dealt with border guards who were supportive, giving them thumbs up,” he said, noting that he doesn’t know anyone who was turned back, but many were searched extensively.

At Standing Rock, Settee said he witnessed police intimidation—erecting cement barricades and checkpoints, for example—but also the use of psychological tactics meant to demoralize the demonstrators. “It’s the most peaceful place you’ll ever be in your life…but the Morton Country sheriffs issued a press release saying that we had guns and pipe bombs and that there were shots fired,” a claim Settee emphatically denied.

Protestors faced both state troopers and private DAPL security, Catholique told me, and it was often difficult to distinguish one from another. She said “a few bullets were fired” at a demonstration she attended on her initial trip over the Labour Day weekend, which she suspects came from both the police and security.

Catholique vouched for the peaceful nature of the protests, but said the tension emerged as the standoff wore on. On her first trip, the Lakota Sioux were in charge. “They were the ones who were really putting it out there that this was a peaceful protest. We do not want to lose any lives. We do not want to get into any kind of conflict that is going to linger after everybody leaves.”

She continued, “This time around, the Red Warrior camp tried to take control. They were the ones who were really being aggressive and that was not the original goal.”

Catholique attributed the movement’s prominence, particularly compared with other anti-pipeline struggles, to social media. “It’s at the forefront of media now, but it wasn’t when I was there in September. Our airwaves were being scrambled.” When demonstrators “got online for their livefeeds from camp, then it really took off.”

***

In late October, two University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) medical students, Nicole Schafenacker and Katriona Auerbach, were arrested at the demonstration, according to the CBC, which prompted UNBC President Daniel Weeks to issue a statement defending their right “to take a position, to exercise their rights to free speech, to peacefully assemble, and to develop and foster informed opinions across a wide range of subject areas.”

The students were charged with conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion, engaging in a riot and maintaining a public nuisance, as were dozens of other protestors who were arrested after a police barricade was set on fire. As of November 3 they were back home in Prince George, B.C., but will have to return to North Dakota unless the charges are dropped.

U.S. Green Party leader Jill Stein and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman were also arrested for protesting the DAPL on separate occasions. The rioting charges against Goodman were dropped, while the criminal trespass and criminal mischief charges against Stein had yet to be resolved when the Monitor went to print.

The Sioux had gone to court in September to block the pipeline’s construction, represented by the environmentalist law firm Earthjustice. Their request was rejected on October 11, although the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that their ruling “is not the final word.”

Outgoing U.S. president Barack Obama had been mildly critical of the project, saying it ought to be built along a different route, “to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans.” Senator and recent Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had written an open letter to the president the week before, calling on Obama to reject the project, as he had done with the Keystone XL pipeline.

But the surprise election of race-baiting climate change denier Donald Trump, who now wants to proceed with Keystone XL and is able to reverse the decision to reroute the DAPL, underscores the anti-pipeline movement’s urgency, said Settee. “The government is going to be pushing these pipelines through as fast as possible.”

Trump until recently owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock with Energy Transfer Partners and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the DAPL. A spokesperson for the new U.S. president told the media in early December that Trump had sold his entire stake in the former company, but would not comment on the latter.

“The more people that we have that organized, that are trained, that are on the frontlines,” Settee said, “the better chance we have for a sustainable future.”

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