Damn, this was one devastating film.
It’s tough to write about this. One angle would be to look at it as an Oscar bait film, which it undeniably is. It is a traditional tearjerker with a twist. Always works. This one won three Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year. Another angle would be the black lives matter movement and the fact that despite the western world moving socially forward (well, there’s a recent dip – I hope it is temporary) all the time, but a lot of the people being left out.
I can’t see this without seeing the Oscar bait angle. Luckily, instead of being a tearjerker with a funny twist (see for example Forrest Gump), the twist here is dead serious. Hence the Oscar bait angle becomes less important and it becomes a film about social injustice and a powerful personal story.
The film tells us about Chiron in three episodes. He is a black gay, who grows up in a neighborhood impoverished by drugs. The first episode tells us of his pre-teen childhood with a mother, who is more interested in getting her next fix and her next fuck. Here Chiron is called Little and played by Alex R. Hibbert. He has only one friend and is confused about why the others are avoiding him. They are aware of his gayness on some level, even though it seems Little is not. This episode sets up the fragile boy growing up in a place, where it’s dangerous to be fragile. He is practically adopted by a the drug lord of the area – Juan (wonderfully played by Mahershala Ali), who recognizes the conditions under which the boy is living and perhaps feels a bit of guilt over being a part of the problem.
In the second episode we see a high school Chiron played by Ashton Sanders. He is still fragile and has realized that he is gay, but hasn’t come to terms with it. There’s a first sexual experience with Kevin, who gives Chiron a hand job on the beach in the cover of the night. There’s also a conflict with Juan, who deals to Chiron’s mother. Finally, Kevin is socially pressured to beat Chiron up, which leads to Chiron beating up the head bully and ending up in jail.
During the last episode we see a reconstructed Chiron, now known as Black and played by Trevante Rhodes. He built himself tough during jail time. The thin boy is gone replaced by a man the size of a fridge. He is black as the night and rules the night as the new drug lord of the area. Nobody questions a drug lord… but there are chinks in the armor. Black meets his mother, who has recovered from her addiction and found God – how can you face someone, who ruined you in every possible way, and who now seems to be on your side finally after all the years of not being there. And there’s Kevin, who calls out of the blue and asks Chiron to come visit. The film ends with the scene of Kevin and Chiron meeting and if by this time you aren’t reduced to a slobbering blob of tears, you have no heart.
It is weird to see this film – we have been celebrating social progress all my life. There’s still a ton to be done, but at least most people in the western world can be gay and most men can be fragile. Not here. Not in the black society, where being fragile means you are going to be eaten alive. Where the only way to survive with a sensitive soul is to hide it, bury it deep and not think about it. These communities have been left out of all the progress made in the rest of the society. It is just one of the injustices facing these communities, but one that hasn’t been explored as much, which is what makes this film also socially ground breaking.
Enough words. If you long for a good cry, go see this. If you long for a good film, go see this. If you wish to learn a new angle on black drug impoverished communities in the USA, go see this. A great film.
- Director: Barry Jenkins
- Watched on: 27th Apr 2017
- Watched at: Riviera Kallio
This was my first experience in the new Riviera Kallio cinema. There used to be a ton of small neighborhood cinemas all over Helsinki, but with the age of the blockbuster and multiplex cinema, practically all of them were lost. Riviera Kallio aims to bring that back. They curate their films selection better than the multiplexes by far. They have a bar at the back of the cinema, with food and drinks available all through the film. The seats are extremely comfortable. The cinema is beautiful. They organize special events for older films, for sports and for other notable events. They are wonderful. I used to yell at Finnkino for raising their ticket prices year-by-year until going to see a film is often more expensive than going to see a symphony orchestra play. I’m not complaining about Riviera Kallio despite usually around double the amount of money I would spend when seeing a film at Finnkino, since Riviera Kallio offers real value for the money I spend there. The atmosphere, the film selection, the events, the food and drinks… I can’t get enough of this place.