Beyond Shame in Barry Jenkins's Moonlight (2016)

Abstract: Shame is frequently racialized, gendered, and sexualized. The 2016 film Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is a cultural touchstone in these terms. Through its success at the 89th Academy Awards, it brought to mainstream audiences a complex depiction of black, queer masculinities that move beyond shame. Moonlight follows a black man through three episodes in his life as he seeks to find agency in hypermasculine spaces wherein his potential queerness and aversion to dominance and aggression leads to isolation and shame. Through the lens of queer temporalities, I show how conventional queer narratives are subverted in Moonlight through opportunities of intimacy. I offer an analysis of the film’s depiction of queerness as an unfixed category and show how the aesthetics underscore the idea of indeterminacy.

Director Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning film Moonlight (2016) follows Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) as he moves through three episodes in his life—childhood, adolescence, and adulthood—all while navigating the terrains of black masculinity in a society where the dominant discourse rejects any notions of vulnerability among men. At the core of this coming-of-age story is the struggle with hypermasculinity that Chiron faces as a black queer man. As the film progresses, he uncovers various aspects of queerness, kinship, and masculinity that open up opportunities beyond shame and secrecy. Rather than rely on conventions of homosexuality and masculinity where identities are exposed and/or liberated by daylight, I will utilize the framework of queer temporalities in order to show that Moonlight embraces the metaphor of night as a vehicle for a narrative that values mutability and indeterminacy.

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