Bear with me for a moment. Most days, I go for a run. I go out a certain distance from my house (at this point I am up to four miles) and then I turn around and walk back. During my walk, I pray my Rosary. It is my way of asking Our Lady to take the intercessions I lift up in the morning as soon as I wake up, and bring them to Jesus. So much of being a Catholic is about routine, and unfortunately this loses many people. Sit, stand, kneel, say this prayer or that one, recite this many Our Fathers after you leave the Confessional and your sins are forgiven. They say these things about the Faith because, like so many of us, they want everything to be their own way. It is as if we are telling God that we know best how to worship Him, rather than the other way around. Of course, the argument as to whether or not the Church’s traditions are inspired by God is a separate issue. That is Faith for you. While I say my Rosary, my thoughts often turn to the things I have heard people say about Catholicism. Today was no different. In thinking about it, it strikes me so often how unfair these so-called criticisms are, said more often by people outside of the Church in order to pile on to whatever negative aspect they hear reported on by the media. They become stereotypes, such as how Catholics are supposedly taught to hate homosexuals. While the Church does not condone this behavior, those who view such dissent as essentially hate speech seem to believe that sexual choices define who we are as people. Every human life has dignity, and while some struggle with that God-given identity, it does not mean that we should despise anyone for any reason. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines God as love. In loving others, we love the person, not the action. Actions can have devastating consequences, and Moonlight (2016) underscores this fact.
Moonlight begins sometime in the past, somewhere in Miami. When a group of kids run across drug dealer Juan’s (Mahershala Ali) path, at first he thinks only of going about his business. However, later on he goes into one of the abandon buildings where a boy who was being chased is hiding. This boy is Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert), otherwise known as “Little.” Those who were after him were calling him gay. For whatever reason, Juan decides to take Little into his protection, though, true to his name (emphasis on the “shy”), he does not want to say much about what is bothering him. And there is a lot on Chiron’s mind. Aside from bullies at school, his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is a drug addict. When her behavior becoming increasingly erratic, and given his other troubles, Chiron increasingly seeks Juan’s company. One day, Chiron asks Juan what the word “faggot” means. Juan tells the boy that it is a bad word for gay men. Chiron then asks if he is one, to which Juan says no. As to whether or not the boy is actually gay, Juan simply replies that one day he will know. That one day comes when a now high school aged Chiron (Ashton Sanders) has a sexual encounter with one of his classmates and long-time friends, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The next day at school, though, a few of Kevin’s other friends essentially peer pressure him into beating up Chiron. Chiron takes the blows without fighting back, but the next day he goes to school and smashes a chair over the one who instigated Kevin to jump Chiron. After Chiron is led out in handcuffs, the movie jumps ahead and up to Atlanta where a now adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now going by the nickname “Black” that Kevin gave him, is following in Juan’s drug dealing footsteps. Two things, though, call his “career choices” (truly for lack of a better term) into question. The first is that his mother is rehabilitating from her addictions and does not want to see her son caught up in the same trap as her. The second is a phone call he gets from Kevin (André Holland), seeking to reconnect after all these years. Shaken, Chiron decides to drive to Miami to meet his old friend. We learn that both had been in prison at one time, and clearly Kevin is remorseful as to what happened when they were in high school. However, while Kevin opted for the straight and narrow, Chiron chose a life of crime. At one point, a slightly disappointed Kevin asks who Chiron is, a poignant existential question. Chiron admits that after he left Miami and while in prison, he remade himself as a “hard” individual. Still, after they go back to Kevin’s place, Chiron tells him that Kevin is the only man he has ever let “touch” him. The film closes with them embracing.
Moonlight is fraught with tension, and the obvious metaphor as suggested by the movie is that Chiron is “moonlighting” as a “hard” individual when he really has a “soft” heart. I use these terms not because I believe they are justified in any way, but to also speak to the underlying struggle of being a homosexual African American man growing up in the crime ridden streets of the lower income areas of Miami. People in such situations are expected to be “hard” because being otherwise can lead to dire consequences. Those consequences are what Chiron had to deal with his entire life because if he truly acted the way he wanted, there would have been further reprisals and disapproval from his peers. Instead, he had to keep it bottled, letting it out only in the most private of settings and to a select few. Because not talking about such issues is typically corrosive to one’s spirit, Chiron eventually acted in a violent way. Undoubtedly, given everything he had been through, it felt good to break a chair over the back of his oppressor. Unfortunately, at least going by the logic of the movie, it also taught him that he could never be the person who truly wanted to be. Or at least I think no one really wants to grow up to be a drug dealer like Juan, but that could be my own naïveté.
As I said before, Moonlight delves into the struggles of Chiron coming to terms with his identity. As a Catholic, I am not here to “pray the gay away.” Those kinds of ideas are why the unfair stereotypes about the Church, and Christians in general, start in the first place. The Church does disapproves of homosexuality not because it is an identity, necessarily. People, for better or worse, are going to make the choices they make. We do have free will, after all. No, it is because sex outside the confines of marriage is considered a sin, and that is where homosexual acts fall. Take a look at Theology of the Body sometime, and you will see a better definition than I could ever give in a short summary in a movie review. Briefly, though, sex is meant to be a procreative act. That is not to say that a husband and wife cannot engage in those activities without the express intent of making a baby. Please note that I am not talking about contraception, which the Church also frowns upon. Instead, whenever a married couple have sex they should be prepared to bring whatever life into the world that God creates in them. Whether we like it or not, that is not something that two men or two women can do together. Sex is not just something to do to pass the time when we are bored. It is a sacred act. In a sense, this oddly brings me back to the film. Thankfully, it is not about a flagrantly gay man getting off with everyone he can. Instead, Chiron seems to take such things seriously, so that is something. I wish that he sought after more conventional company, but I appreciate his struggles.
Moonlight is a tough movie to watch. I am not sure I recommend it either. It is well made and acted, even if the pregnant pauses in scenes do get to be a bit tedious. Having your main character be so tight-lipped will do that, though. Nonetheless, I stand by my Faith. I do not hate the movie. Alternatively, I grieve for the environment that made Chiron into the person he became, regardless of his sexual preferences. Some of the trials he went through hit close to home, particularly with his mother. I may not condone Chiron’s sexual behavior, but I love him as a brother in Christ and pray for people like him.