Moonlight; Showing a community in an honest light in order to address social adversities

I’ve chosen a scene from Academy award-winning Moonlight (2016) because I think this particular scene does an excellent job at physically obscuring and challenging the audience’s expectations of how characters are meant to ‘behave.’ Don Levy (2012) identifies this process as presumption, one of the three key principles of illusion that play a critical role in establishing a cinematic journey for viewers.

The scene is visually reflective of the relationship between a mother and son. No words are exchanged while delicately eerie music plays dramatically in the background. While the child stands expressionless, the woman’s worn face is stained with this sinister and almost ‘unmotherly’ expression. Warm pink lighting is shone on the mother, juxtaposing the aggressive look in her eyes as she proceeds to scream at her son. The filmmakers challenge this traditional nurturing role, presenting it as something that isn’t expressed in the way we usually see. Throughout the film we are shown that while the mother loves her son, she expresses it in an unconventional way.

In this scene the boy, Chiron, simply stands there staring at his mother.

Often times we as a society assume that ALL children’s knowledge of the world is limited and that all children are granted the right to be young and blissfully ignorant. The film makers explore Levy’s key principle of illusion, context in reality, by challenging the audience to assess the level of children’s naivety and this idea of ignorance and youth equating to some sort of insusceptibility to emotional adversity.  A pivotal moment in the scene is when the mother shouts the word “fa**ot.” While Chiron doesn’t know what this word means (noted earlier in the film), he looks down for the first time in the entire scene. This display of deflated body language challenges the audience’s preconceived ideas pertaining to youth, perhaps arguing that such blissful ignorance is more so a luxury that not everyone can afford.

This brings me to Brian Bailey’s (2011, p. 65) qualitative study exploring emotional expression through film. When speaking with 16-year-old student Julisa regarding her short film made in response to a fatal neighbourhood shooting, Bailey observes her film as the expression of a problem within the community. She produced material for people to relate to in hopes it would bring about change.

Much the same, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight explores challenges within a community such as drug abuse and fractured relationships due to such abuse. He calls upon the audience to question whether ignorance is natural for children or simply a luxury afforded to those with fewer adversities.

Bailey, B. (2011). “When I make a film, it’s out of my head”: Expressing emotion and healing through digital filmmaking in the classroom. Digital Culture & Education, 3(2), pp. 76-97.

Levy, D. (2013). A cinematic journey through visual effects [Video file]. Retrieved from


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