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Coming of Age: Creators of Golden Globe Winner ‘Moonlight’ Discuss Bullying, Masculinity

Moonlight, which tells a moving story of a black gay man, won Best Picture-Drama tonight at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards. 

Director Barry Jenkins, who is straight, grew up in Miami’s Liberty City housing project, as did openly gay playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play the film is based upon. Both attended the same elementary and middle school, although a few years apart. HRC recently sat down with Jenkins and McCraney (separately) to discuss the groundbreaking film.

In your film, you so deftly capture what it is like to be young and to be bullied – the near-daily terror, the split-second decisions to try to stay safe, and even the loss of hope …

Jenkins: Growing up where we did, I saw kids like Tarell be bullied. And I did nothing. This is not my attempt to make amends, but I’ve been a witness to these things. I know what they’re like, and I know how constant they are. We describe these things as micro-aggressions. I think they’re f—— aggressions. Plain and simple.

What do you say to young people who want to be an artist, to create?   

Jenkins: People on Twitter say very flattering things to me, and one of my go-to replies is that there’s nothing extraordinary about me. I’m a very ordinary person who just works diligently, and tries to be honest and make things personal. And so the distance between me and whoever this young person is who wants to tell their story is not very great. Not at all.

Barry was drawn to your story for its treatment of masculinity and of black men. You’ve said that the idea of masculinity all too often means “a need to perform, to harden up, to not be soft.” 

McCraney : Well, “masculinity” has been force-fed to us in many ways, through a kind of patriarchal oppression of many communities and many people. What it means to be a man has been written down for us. …And so, it is a performance, and those of us who can perform it, sometimes do in order to gain the privilege that it affords. Those of us who cannot, those of us who refuse to, are often punished for that.

We think of ourselves as more educated when we talk about homophobia. But at the end of the day, if we look at all real homophobia, it’s anti-feminism. It’s really misogyny dressed up, or pointed at men.

What is the term in which we denigrate men for being homosexual? It is that they’re a “girl” or they’re weaker. … And God forbid that you live in some sort of mixture of the two, of man and woman. Then society doesn’t have a place to put you, and things become more problematic.

I think what Barry did best, especially in the first two parts of the film, is that he told that story of the middle, which is what I experienced as a young person, where I didn’t necessarily attribute my life to being feminine or masculine. I thought I was being my full self, and then it became dangerous to be that self. Then one has to start to perform in a way that you think will help you survive. But what does one lose in that survival?

Are you hearing from people in our community and beyond? This kind of story has rarely been on the big screen before – nascent same-sex desire, of men being very sensitive with each other.  

McCraney : Yes, people are reaching out. They are taking these stories and feeling a certain ownership about having conversations about them and in healthy ways. People are bringing their personal experiences, starting a really important dialogue: “Well, my child was like this” and “Here was what I had to endure.”… For those who have never been able to speak up, and have something to speak to, I think it’s really important.

Black men who don’t identify as queer or gay are having conversations about the same kind of bullying and hyper masculinity that they feel stopped them from having really close friends. … and there are conversations about how the gulf between “straight” men, and men who are queer-identifying, is not helping the black community move forward. 

Read the interview in the upcoming edition of HRC’s Equality Magazine.