The New Vanguard: Barry Jenkins Nominated by James Franco

The New Vanguard: Barry Jenkins Nominated by James Franco

For our March issue, V introduces the next generation of creative innovators, nominated by some of the biggest names in entertainment today.

For our March issue, V introduces the next generation of creative innovators, nominated by some of the biggest names in entertainment today.

Text: James Franco

A long steady-cam shot moves in and around the drug dealer, swirling as he talks to his underling working on the corner. I assumed that this was the lead character. Then, the young boys run through. They’re chasing young Chiron, called “Little” in this first chapter. After watching Moonlight four times, I noticed the small crown on the dash of the dealer’s car. A small crown that pops up on the dash of the older Chiron’s car in the third chapter, when Chiron is a drug dealer himself and is now called “Black.” Maybe I was slow to figure it out, but everything in the movie is connected. The dealer’s love for Chiron, culminating with him baptizing the latter in the ocean, is the love and support that gets Chiron through his youth. A love that comes with the painfully ironic twist that situates the dealer as the provider of crack for Chiron’s mother, while also becoming the impromptu father for Chiron. This configuration is later reflected in the irony of Chiron as “Black” becoming a drug dealer after suffering as the child of an addict. The same cruel irony is true of Chiron’s figure of affection, Kevin. The boy he knew as a child, who taught him to be tough in the face of others. As a teen, Kevin would both initiate him into love, into physical intimacy, while also delivering the blows of hate as the school bully's puppet. And as an adult, Kevin is the one who would draw him out of the protective shell of his drug dealer persona. The one who could pull out the sensitive Chiron he knew from their youth, the one who could admit that he had not been intimate with anyone since they were teens on the beach.The movie is so personal, so specific: growing up black and gay in Florida, a world that has zero similarities to my upbringing in Palo Alto. There isn’t one white person in the film. But the storytelling is so deft, the actors are so committed, the subject matter so relatable (coming of age) that I am filled with empathy every time I watch the film. Barry Jenkins disregarded every preconceived idea about what would make a commercial film, made a personal film, put his whole heart into it, and turned out a masterpiece.

Credits: Artwork by James Franco.

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