What I love about film is that more than any art form, it allows you to take an intimate look into the lives and experiences of people you’d otherwise never know about. You can walk a mile in the shoes of someone you’ve never met, see places you’ve never seen or explore completely fictional, fantastic worlds. But most of all, film can help you understand and empathize with other people’s trials and struggles. Some movies do this better than others but one that does this extremely well is 2017’s Best Picture winner Moonlight.
Moonlight tells the life story of a young black man named Chiron in three distinct “episodes”: him as a boy, as a teenager and as an adult. Beautifully filmed and flawlessly acted, the film explores themes of identity, race and sexuality. As a boy Chiron is bullied at school for not being tough enough, strong enough, or masculine enough and comes home to the same abuse from his drug-addicted mother. He doesn’t fit inside the mould he’s told to or belong inside his own community and culture. The only companionship he finds is in Juan, a drug dealer who takes him in while hiding from bullies and tells him he needs to find his own path in life. For how briefly he’s in the movie, Juan makes a huge impact, both on Chiron and the audience. In movies and media we’ve been shown what people who happen to sell drugs should be like, but Juan’s character shatters those stereotypes.
The rest of the film shows Chiron finding his path, be it standing up to his bullies or coming to terms with his sexuality. I won’t spoil anything further because everyone should see this movie.
We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. – Roger Ebert
Though I may not be able to directly relate to Chiron’s personal struggles, the movie certainly helped me understand him – and others like him. It reminded me that we’re all human and that black or white, straight or gay, we all want to be comfortable with and accepted for who we are. For just a few hours I was able to step away from my own life, experience and learn from someone else’s then return to my own with a new perspective. And that’s the magic of movies.