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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Entertainment, U.S. Politics

Donald Trump’s woman-hating is old news

We’ve seen this act before.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says something outrageous, GOP leaders rush to condemn and distance themselves from him and then nothing happens.

This time, a private 2005 conversation Trump had with television host Billy Bush was leaked where he essentially boasted of his proclivity for sexual harassment.

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” he said in the leaked audio. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

“Grab them by the pussy,” was one such example.

Some pretty awful remarks, certainly, but is it really any worse than other comments Trump’s made about women, including his own daughter, in the past?

As Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of Counterpunch, observed, what Trump said in his conversation with Bush is probably no worse than private discussions had by Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, two other notorious objectifiers of women. They were just never recorded.

According to Politico, unnamed Republican National Committee lawyers are looking for ways to deny Trump the party’s nomination – one month before the election. It’s not going happen, as “the lawyers have concluded that Trump would have to cooperate in any attempt to replace him,” the article noted, based on another anonymous GOP insider.

The hopelessness of their cause aside, the reaction from the party establishment – the very leaders who Trump won the nomination by attacking – was swift.

Here are some tweets:

Trump endorsed Romney in 2012 and after the former Massachusetts governor refused to turn the favour this year, was dubbed “irrelevant” and a “choke artist.”

Rubio was the scion of the party establishment before his campaign collapsed and was trounced by Trump in his own state, Florida.

I’m not sure whether Mitt Romney, “Little” Marco Rubio or “Low Energy” Jeb Bush’s denunciations will hurt so much as help Trump’s campaign, as they feed into the narrative that the establishment is out to get The Donald.

But when your own running mate denounces you, after spending an entire debate denying your more controversial positions, you’re in trouble.

Mike Pence went so far as to issue a formal statement, expressing his remorse at Trump’s comments, which he emphasized are from 11 years ago.

Trump’s non-apology

The Donald was naturally on the defensive when he released a video statement last night, which looks like it was filmed on the set of a late night television show.

“I said it. I was wrong and I apologize,” he said shortly before implying that it’s not too big a deal. “This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today,” citing job losses, government corruption and national security.

He then almost immediately pivots to Bill Clinton’s own history of misogyny, which is certainly deplorable in its own right.

“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” said Trump.

Trump, too, has been accused of sexual assault on at least three separate occasions, including once by his ex-wife, Ivana.

“See you at the debate on Sunday,” he concludes. Looks like it’s going to be a nasty one.

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