As the Ocean Tells Me So – A Review of “Moonlight”

I’ll start with the ending…

Black revisits his childhood friend Kevin, in his now distant home town of Miami, at a diner where Kevin is working. Of course he is anxious, as I would be too. Seeing a “past someone” who conjures liberating feelings we’ve both never felt before, feelings that affirm being me is right and I am not alone – they can be overwhelming. That in and of itself can make a human become overwhelmed with nervousness and uncertainty. Black talks to Kevin; they get reacquainted, they flirt, and they question, but the moment in Moonlight that made me feel like poetry was not the moment in the diner, nor the post-diner travel to Kevin’s apartment, nor the exchange they had in Kevin’s apartment; it was at the very end that made me gag into a soft blue as I vicariously catapulted myself into Black’s expression, as he was held and comforted by the hands and the love of Kevin.

An adaptation of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight is an independent film directed by Barry Jenkins. In a sequence of three segments, the film is a journey that serves as a lens into the life stages of a person from the Miami streets – of Chiron, an “other.” We see him grow from a child (“Little”) into an adult (nicknamed “Black”) as he endures universal feelings: pain, joy, sadness, love, and some indescribable.

The familiarities of this film and my life were a bit overwhelming to take. It’s been a long time since a film made me cry. I think the last film to do that, or to ever do that, was The Color Purple. You don’t understand the anxiety I had before and while watching this film, as I didn’t want it to trigger any trauma I received in this world due to the fact that I, too, am “other.” From “Little” Chiron to grownup “Black” Chiron, I saw moments of myself. As Chiron lay in bed in each phase of his life, the morning after another day and night, living as an “other,” I saw my life. I saw my friends’ lives as they too often travel miles and miles just to reaffirm themselves through that rarest love found in our lives. I saw everything, honestly, truly, as I felt – and still feel – like Chiron every damn day of my life: an enigma enduring the navigation of living in blurred spaces that seem to belong to me, but they don’t. If they did belong to me, I would feel safe when traveling within these spaces, but I don’t. I live in violence. I live in a micro war. I live unprotected and never have the privilege to let go because I feel secure.

No, it doesn’t happen ever.


But I became more and more relieved as Moonlight played out. Sadly, when we are placed in film, as the audience, we expect to experience something that is explicitly violent and traumatizing, but this was different. Affliction did occur within the film but Jenkins delicately manipulated the trauma through silence, slow motion movement, love-expressing characters, and tightly framed body expressions as passionate black soul music played in the background. Jenkins humanizes the characters as we, the audience (no matter who you are), develop empathy, thus humanizing ourselves.

Jenkins did not exploit me; instead, he me let breathe. Every scene that went by I took a breathe and then released it without shame, without fear, and without spectators. I was thankful to see that he revealed to everyone: “what is black love.” He gave it a platform to be protected – from the chance it could be spoiled, as it so often is.

After the film ended, I felt armoured, for once.

Isn’t that art?

Typically, the characters in films such as Moonlight are demonized, or their (our) pain becomes lust for foreign viewers in the usual movies we grew up seeing. Jenkins carefully did the “other” with McCraney’s poetry; we witnessed suffrage turn into sacred healing moments. I felt like someone had just given me a kiss on the forehead after lovingly placing a Band-aid on a fresh wound.

For me Moonlight was an ocean. It was a clear sky as I see the world within it under me.

Abdu Ali is a rapper, multi media arts curator, and writer living in Baltimore. His writings have been seen in AfroPunk, City Paper, and True Laurels. Follow him on IG @Abdu__Ali

Abdu's music project "Mongo" has been critically acclaimed by The Fader and Saint Heron, among other publications. Championing Baltimore Club music in the fabric of most of his beats, and through his work as a curator of Kahlon, as well as his outspokenness on social media/interviews, Ali has been elected as a radical underground Baltimore musician and cultural phenom. He is unapologetically black and queer; he is bold, raw, and most importantly, life-affirming.


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