He said, “you don’t even know.”
Little said, “you don’t even know.”
Black said, “you don’t even know.”
Chiron said, “you don’t even know.”
“You don’t even know,” is what I wanted to say to anyone that said, “fight back.” Anyone that said, “be a man.”
Anyone that said, “don’t tell anyone.” Or, “why didn’t you tell someone?”
that said “leave.”
that said “get out.”
that said “it’s just words.”
that said “toughen up.”
that said “it was just a punch/just a trip/just a slap.”
that said “boys will be boys.”
Anyone that said, “don’t cry– you ‘faggot’/you ‘sissy’/you ‘nigga’/you ‘nigger.’”
I say, “you just don’t even know, and it feels dangerous to tell you.”
To tell someone that you have experienced violence at the intersections of poor, Black, and queer is to risk being blamed, shamed, and opened up to more violence. Survival becomes a strategic game. I can’t say, “I love you” in the presence of hypermasculinity. I must deepen my voice and lessen my effeminate mannerisms when I’m forced to answer a question in the classroom or explain to the barber the haircut I want.
In my lonesome, I hold the fears of going to hell during Sunday school or during the invitation to the altar. I take alternate routes home to avoid the critters ready to pounce. I don’t make eye contact as I walk down the hall, up the street, or as I run to the store for Grandma Bertha.
The violence is intimate: committed by folks I call family, neighbor, and friend. Sure, violence comes in the form of white skin, but this is something different. This is a deeper cut, a wound that will likely never heal. A wound that will fester, has festered, and ruined who I could have been.
The result is that I don’t know how to love myself. I’ve not witnessed someone love a being like me. I am unlovable. I must contort, and contort, and contort further to experience anything that resembles dignity. I don’t even know who I am. I am unexplored.
You don’t even know.
But Barry Jenkins and TaRell Alvin McCraney, the director and writers of Moonlight, they know.
To see beauty in a damned place is beyond revolutionary, it is an act of a God that I struggle to believe in. Moonlight helps. Even though I work to claim and love myself in my fullness, I still needed Moonlight.
After viewing Moonlight, I feel more alive than I have ever felt. I feel affirmed that living in my fullness was the right choice–the only choice, if living was the goal. I love myself more after viewing this film.
I’ve never seen my kinda touch on screen.
My kinda kiss on screen.
My kinda sex on screen.
My kinda hug and cuddle on screen.
My kinda love and lust told in an unapologetic and brave way, on screen.
I didn’t have to call on my imagination to make this story represent me, as I did with Brokeback Mountain.
This film is beyond brilliant and beautiful. It is beyond a story in a dark theater. It is living, breathing, and growing inside of me. I have carried it since the first time I obsessed over the trailer and now after the second viewing, it is still lingering.
I’ve not looked at the moon in the same way. Shades of blues and purples in the dark have become cravings. Looking at my skin, after the sun sets, has become a new ritual.
I am more alive.
I have dreamt about six scenes every night since my first viewing. Scenes that I look forward to dreaming about tonight.
1) The crashing of the waves
Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaches Little (Alex Hibbert) how to swim in this moving scene. The scene highlights their stunning Black skin with a curious moon peeking through the clouds.
As Black fatherhood came to mind, tears began to fall. I missed my father. I missed the father I wanted Eddie to be. I thought of my Black mother–thinking Rosalee did the best she could, with the capacity she had. I thought of forgiveness, and the many times I chose stubbornly to withhold it. I pondered critically on my lack of a childhood. And I reminisced with green eyes, as I thought of the kids who had families that supported every aspect of their lives and identity. I thought of trauma, and how I’ve normalized it.
Juan held Little and kept him afloat until he could fend for himself against the pounding waves. Little trusted Juan, like no other man he had ever encountered. You can tell Little didn’t understand it (perhaps Juan didn’t either), but he knew it felt right.
Growing up in a single parent household, I prayed to no avail for nurturing that looked like this. Just knowing that this kind of fatherhood was a possibility, even though it eluded me, was enough. And to choose swimming as the vehicle to depict such trust and love, with very few words, was genius. Yes, Black people can swim, and Black men can love without conditions.
2) The dinner table
Little: [innocently] What’s a ‘faggot?’
Juan: A ‘faggot’ is a word used to make gay people feel bad.
I clenched my jaw in this moment, as Little recalled the name the kids at school taunted him with. They called him “faggot.” In this scene, Little was brave enough to ask Juan and Teresa (Janelle Monáe) the meaning of ‘faggot,’ certainly a testament to the trust built. It was at this moment I held my breath, anxious. Would Juan be the Black man I needed him to be? The father I always knew I deserved?
He was. Yes, he was.
Though, I always new Teresa was the Black woman I needed her to be.
Paula: [to Juan] “You gon’ keep selling me rocks?!”
The moment Juan caught Paula (Naomie Harris) in the car smoking dope was the most haunting scene in the film. I had already been on the fence with the portrayal of a conflicted and potentially problematic Black woman character- positioning her to be the sole antagonist, and straight-up villain. However, the role is written with such complexity, care, and nuance that both villain and hero could be used to describe her. Perhaps, what lingers is just how responsible Juan is to Paula’s drug addiction and even deeper, the role Black men play in the demise of the Black woman. Literal and symbolic responsibility was placed where it belonged, the doorstep of Black men, traditioned to us by white supremacist patriarchy.
4) The beach at night
Chiron: [to Kevin] “I cry so much sometimes I feel like I’m just gon’ turn into drops…” “I want to do a lot of things that don’t make sense…”
Black toxic masculinity–walls built with a mixture of brick, mortar, and violence–were broken down in this scene. I reiterate, this is not just hypermasculinity, typically explored through the lens of whiteness, but Black toxic masculinity on display and challenged. I witnessed flirting in this scene. I witnessed closeness in proximity, as their thighs touched one another’s. I witnessed a higher level of intimacy–the kind when your soul exits your body in search of a match and in the final seconds before being lost forever, latches onto the destined compliment, all held together by trust and risk. It was invigorating to watch Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) give into each other. To allow each other to be seen authentically and fully. To risk and be rewarded with something special and inextinguishable.
5) The diner
Kevin: [to Black] “He played this song…”
This is simply the most exquisite scene in film–not the most exquisite scene in this film, but in the medium of film. Not much dialogue, which is consistent with the way this coming-of-age love story is told. Every facial expression, sound, and camera angle (à la Spike Lee) is used purposefully. This scene could have been its own short film.
Kevin (Andre Holland) and Black (Trevante Rhodes) sit in the diner becoming reacquainted with one another, holding the entire time that there is no one else on this planet that know them better than they know each other, and there is nowhere else in the universe they would rather be, than in this diner, at this very moment. They are courting and flirting. Although both are nervous and pretending to be comfortable, joy and anticipation seep through their pores. It just feels right. From the gulping of the wine to the Cuban meal prepared with such sedulous hands, to the faint sound of the beach when the diner door opens; everything is right, for once.
6) The embrace
Black: [to Kevin] “You’re the only man who ever touched me.”
And this is when I melted. Chiron finally got the embrace he deserved. It’s as if he had been running a long distance race, but had no idea where the finish line was. Through divine intervention, he finally looped around to something familiar. He had been searching for Juan. Searching for the love he felt the night he learned to swim. Searching for the moment he would feel that familiar wholeness again.
In his search, he found Kevin, and Kevin found him. And in the end they caught their wind in each other’s arms. For that moment, they lived by Teresa’s rule, “all love and all pride in this house.”
Cody Charles writes about queerness, Blackness, and liberation from a Black fat queer perspective. Cody utilizes pop culture, specifically film and television, as a way to explore critical conversations around community and radical self-reckoning. They have works published with the Black Youth Project, Huff Post Black Voices, The Body is not An Apology, and The King of Reads. You can find more of Cody’s work on their personal blog, Reclaiming Anger, on Twitter @_codykeith_, or on their Patreon site.