February 26, 2017 6:15 PM My friend, Eve and I get off the Greyhound bus station at Santa Ana after a long day exploring the LACMA. We are rushing back to our hall where the rest of our friends are holding a mini Academy Awards viewing party. By the time we get there, Mahershala Ali has already picked up his first Oscar and Suicide Squad is called an Oscar winning film. A few ill comments about Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck later, we get to the main event– Best Picture. Out of all the nominated films I’ve seen in 2016, La La Land and Moonlight were the only two contenders that strongly resonated with me. Of the two films, however, Moonlight was by far the best picture and highly deserving of the award.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight follows Chiron in 3 different stages of his life:
Each stage is aptly named for the different identities his community has labeled him as. During his early youth, Chiron is often persecuted by his peers for not conforming to the male standards set before him. He is nicknamed “Little,” “faggot,” “black” by the people around him. As a result, Chiron questions who he truly is and struggles to find his identity. In the last act of the film, Chiron reunites with his childhood friend, Kevin, who is astonished by Chiron’s transformation from a weak, lanky boy to a beefy, intimidating man. Kevin questions Chiron knowing that this is not his true self.
Kevin: Who is you, Chiron?
Chiron: I’m me man. I ain’t trying to be nothing else.
Moonlight‘s themes of self-identity is reminiscent to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. In Shakespeare’s play, Caliban suffers a similar burden as Chiron. For years, Prospero, Miranda and the other characters in the island have branded Caliban a “monster” or “strange beast.” Their power is exerted through language to confer Caliban’s identity. Because of this, Caliban is seen as subordinate and powerless. In Behn’s novella, Oroonoko is seized from his home in Coramantien and taken to Surinam where he is sold as a slave. As a slave, he is given the name “Caesar”alluding to his Roman like features and royal heritage. While the new name seems to empower Oroonoko, it is actually a marker of oppression. Like Caliban, Oronooko is left powerless. Chiron, Caliban, and Oroonoko are all victims of an empire’s use of language. Society has deemed them as inferior for being different.