Written by/ Tao, young filmmaker, director, and playwright.
When discussing the recent Oscar-winning film Moonlight, people seem to be divided into two camps. The first one claims that there’s nothing special about the film, and if it weren’t for “political-correctness,” those old white dudes from the Academy definitely wouldn’t have given it the award. “Peace out Oscars – you’re not what you used to be.” The other camp claims that its win has nothing to do with being “political-correct”, but rather the fact that it presents a simple and down-to-earth story told with authentic and moving cinematic language, as they go on and on praising the merit of the film. They declare that it’s racist to ascribe the movie’s success to “political-correctness”.
Now, I would like to offer my own conclusion: Moonlight is not a dark horse, but a black diamond, one that looks blue in moonlight.
The film marks the debut of 32-year old director Barry Jenkins. It is filled with poise and authenticity, even though certain technical details could have been improved. What made the film a masterpiece, however, is not its display of skills and tact, but how its subtlety deflected its cruelty, and how its tenderness conquered the hard. The entire effort displays effortlessness. It stays loyal to self-expression, and expresses boundless and genuine humanistic care.
As represented by Hollywood, the mainstream movie industry in the US is lacking in “auteurs” when compared to its counterparts in Europe. Being a fledgling newcomer, Barry Jenkins hit the Academy where it hurt with his “auteur” qualities. While a movie can hardly escape from political environments and social significance, Moonlight winning seems reasonable in terms of the popularity of its topics and potential lasting impact. On an artistic level, it’s ultimately all about expressing and constructing a frame of mind, and for this movie, it sure lives up to its title.
However, we are not here to be bickering b****es today. Instead, we are going to focus on the topics that the movie addresses; namely growing up, masculinity, and marginalised groups.
There is a special term in English called coming-of-age that describes the stories in films like Moonlight. You can get a general idea of this theme from a quick glance of the movie’s poster.
Since many readers should have watched the movie by now, we won’t have to analyse the plot step by step. The scene that stood out to me, is in the latter half of the movie, when Kevin heartbreakingly beats up his admirer, Chiron, against his will. It’s a very thought-provoking scene: due to peer pressure, Kevininflicts violence upon Chiron in order to prove that he is a “man”. Chiron doesn’t fight back. To him, it has nothing to do with the display of masculinity. I believe that because of his kind-hearted nature (which can also be interpreted as both weakness or confusion), he’s not interested in fighting violence with violence, especially when he likes his assailant.
Ever since I was little, I have had doubts about my gender and felt confused about the concept of “masculinity” conveyed by my parents, teachers, and television. What does it take to be a “man”? To return “necessary” blows to bullies? Is it a sign of weakness to ignore evil? Does being masculine have to be linked to “violence”?
The answer is a resounding NO!
The lessons boys learn from social environments, along with the blind-sided yet widely accepted definition of “masculinity”, are highly prejudiced. Being a child born with male genitals, I was taught to be manly, to not cry and to man up.
Yet since my youth, I’ve been a dress-wearing, cat-walking, delicate-looking boy with the glass heart of a princess, who was constantly teased about wearing dresses and remains the laughing stock at family gatherings even today as an adult.
Consequently, I had more than my fair share of encounters being called “feminine” and “sissy” while growing up.
However, being “feminine” doesn’t harm anybody. We are all raised by women, and needless to saysome of them are very strong figures. When I hear people call women by the term “NüHanZi (Manly Woman)”, I’m not sure if they are being complimentary or derogatory; is it a discrimination against meek men or strong women?
Many straight men hate feminine men. They tell me that the “masculine” character of men should not be tampered with, and that being a “sissy” man is humiliating to all men. Nonetheless, more interestingly, a lot of straight women hate feminine men as well, which is probably due to the fact that men who show femininity contradicts the “BaDaoZongCai” depicted in their Mary Sue fantasies.
The question I wish to ask is whether gender has to exist as binaries.
They say men are not supposed to cry. However, the timeless and devoted star Andy Lau also sang “it is not a crime for a man to cry”, so who should be blamed if suppressing tears damages your health? They also say that women should be like meek little lambs, but seriously, not all women are looking forward to being ravaged under a “BaDaoZongCai”.
Interestingly, culture has often proven itself to be a bit of a contradiction. Throughout history, we have been favoring pretty boys in East Asian culture. From Jia BaoYu, Ning CaiChen and Xu Xian from ancient Chinese literature, to the “fresh meats” who are among the most popular contemporary celebrities, they all represent more “delicate” aesthetics. Supposedly, girls are often more willing to play the caring sister role in front of these boys.
However, popular culture in the East and West may interpret these pretty very differently. As someone who works in show business, I had an experience where I was an extra at a yogurt commercial shoot in Australia with a very popular “fresh meat” from the swim circle last year. The set was in a huge villa near Melbourne, and when the swim star showed up, the other female extra from northeast China in front of me couldn’t help herself from shouting out his name. The “fresh meat” blushed and smiled at her, and I thought she was close to an orgasm right there!
At the same time, all the other Australian-born Asian girls working as extras on set had more western upbringings. They remained indifferent to this “fresh meat” appearance. I heard them say in English: “He’s so shy, he really is like a girl. I don’t find him attractive.”
I, however, can find many types of men attractive, be they artistic femme fatales, athletic bros who can be gentle and understanding at the same time, or even a “BaDaoZongCai” who smells of sweaty musk.
The point is, I won’t disrespect or humiliate people that I’m not attracted to.
Human existence is so diverse. We have many gender types and sexual preferences. The so-called “exclusive” qualities and behaviours ascribed to gender or sexuality, such as men being dominant and women being weak, represent a kind of thinking pattern that’s slowly collapsing among today’s youth.
After all, the bold as brass “big man” sitting opposite you, who is often called ”straight guy cancer”(Chinese internet term which often refers to heterosexual males who are misogynist, sexist, self-centered, and homophobic), could be struggling one way or another. How do you know that he doesn’t get confused? How can you be sure that he won’t jerk off and cry while listening to sentimental music when he feels lonely at night?
A bit of understanding for both parties.
I so envy drag queens from time to time, as they are truly magical creatures. In Shanghai during the annual meeting of winter and spring, the neon lights of the clubs enhance the transformation of these amazing creations. The drag queens in stockings and heels and the drag kings in cool suits and leather shoes become reincarnations of Venus in this time of gender diversity. Wrapped in lust, covered with light, with a little magic cast, everything intertwines into a fantasy. They are even luckier than Cinderella as their magic won’t disappear when the clock strikes midnight.
I agree that they are more or less portraying the stereotyped male and female appearances, but the combination of both masculinity and femininity outlines their particularities and attitudes. They exist to be themselves, to be happy despite the opinions of others. And it should be like this; why do we focus on only men and women when we love all humankind?!
We see a stronger Chiron in the third part of Moonlight. We can gather that he has been through a lot even though the movie doesn’t elaborate on it. This boy was molded by the brutality of life and assimilated by society. What’s consoling is that he gets up his nerve to see Kevin, which shows that he has truly grown up. It is him forgiving the past, accepting and acknowledging the present, and anticipating the future.
I love this open ending.
Spring is here. Clear out a vacancy on a weekend afternoon and have your friends over to watch Moonlightat home. Maybe afterwards when night comes you can continue the fun hitting the clubs.