Storytelling is one area we all share as humanity.
Yet it is rare that we are closed enough to reality, or in some cases things don’t turn out well or they just drag on and on, and it is impossible to claim victory or honestly package them up.
And, so it is good to return back to how Tarell Alvin McCraney & Barry Jenkins were able to emerge from their Natural Inheritance.
Did I ever imagine, during my anxious, closeted childhood, that I’d live long enough to see a movie like “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’s brilliant, achingly alive new work about black queerness? Did any gay man who came of age, as I did, in the era of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and aids, think he’d survive to see a version of his life told onscreen with such knowledge, unpredictability, and grace? Based on a story by the gay black playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney—Jenkins himself is not gay—the film is virtuosic in part because of Jenkins’s eye and in part because of the tale it tells, which begins in nineteen-eighties Miami.
Four white Miami-Dade police officers have beaten a young black man to death and been acquitted of manslaughter, setting off riots in the city’s black enclaves—Liberty City, Overtown, and elsewhere. It’s hard for a man of color walking those sun-bleached streets not to watch his back or feel that his days are numbered. That’s how Juan (the beautiful Mahershala Ali) carries himself—defensively, warily. He’s a dope dealer, so there’s that, too. He may be a boss on the streets—his black do-rag is his crown—but he’s intelligent enough to know that he’s expendable, that real power doesn’t belong to men like him. Crack is spreading through the city like a fever. Stepping out of his car, Juan asks a cranky drug runner what’s up. (Jenkins and his ardent cinematographer, James Laxton, film the car as if it were a kind of enclosed throne.) Juan, his mouth fixed in a pout—sometimes he sucks on his tongue, as if it were a pacifier—doesn’t take his eyes off the street. He can’t afford to; this situation, any situation, could be changed in an instant by a gun or a knife.
In this world, which is framed by the violence to come—because it will come—Juan sees a skinny kid running, his backpack flapping behind him. He’s being pursued by a group of boys, and he ducks into a condemned building to escape. Juan follows, entering through a blasted-out window, a symbol, perhaps, of the ruin left by the riots. Inside, in a dark, silent space, the kid stares at Juan, and Juan stares at the kid. There’s a kind of mirroring going on. Maybe Juan is looking at his past while the boy looks up at a future he didn’t know he could have. It’s a disorienting scene, not so much because of what happens as because of what doesn’t happen. Throughout the movie, Jenkins avoids what I call Negro hyperbole—the overblown clichés that are so often used to represent black American life. For instance, Juan doesn’t take that runaway kid under his wing in order to pimp him out and turn him into a drug runner; instead, he brings him home to feed him, nourish him.
Juan lives in a small, unassuming house with his soft-spoken but confident partner, Teresa (played by the singer Janelle Monáe). The couple look on as the kid eats and eats; it’s clear, though, that he’s hungry for more than food. The boy doesn’t even say his name, Chiron, until Juan nudges him: “You don’t talk much but you damn sure can eat.” The affectionate scolding makes Chiron (Alex Hibbert, a first-time actor, who couldn’t be better) sit up and take notice; it tells him that he counts. And he knows he counts even more when Juan calls him by his nickname—Little—as a way of claiming him.
“Faggot” is another name, and it’s one that Chiron hears often as he grows up. He’s an outsider at school, and at home, too. He lives in public housing with his single mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), who goes on drug binges, less to alleviate her sadness than to express her wrath—against the world and, especially, against her son, who she thinks keeps her from the world. Chiron lives for the moments when he can get away from his mother’s countless recriminations and needs, and swim in the unfamiliar waters of love with Juan and Teresa. One indelible scene shows Juan holding Chiron in his arms in a rippling blue ocean, teaching him to float—which is another way of teaching him the letting go that comes with trust, with love.
Likely there are areas of our lives where we are a bit untrustworthy. I pray we do get to recompense.
- Shanika Hadge?
- If you want to know where a culture is headed look at the art
- Mahershala Ali
- Not be communicative
- take ownership of our experience
- We need ourselves
- If I take time from it, I can go back to it and not be assaulted
- Poetr y
- From the margins to the Center
- Writing a film script
- Understanding time more
- Do not have time to do everything
- When you have freedom and your own room, it is difficult
- My Dad was dying at the time
- Our efforts is not always in alignment with the desired destination
- I had to learn that the hard way
- I wasted a lot of time just chasing girls
- It was too important to me
- I had to be about chasing me
- Was worrying “Who is she with now, she did not call me back”
- There is nobody here that is more important than you
- There is a handful of people that I still keep in touch with
- And, that is because we contribute to each other
- They are trying to be good fathers and good husbands
Gratitude to Rebecca Engle, Director of Theater @ Saint Mary, & Mahershala Ali for narrating…here
And, also to all those wanting and waiting for a good story to tell.
As I watch more of the Video, it is so obvious how much Rebecca Engle has invested in teaching and training Mahershala.
And, far more endearingly, how much she wants him to be successful not just commercially, but through the story that gets to be told through him, as well.