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How The American Movie Industry Treats Moonlight's Queer Character As Shown In The Barry Jenkins' Movie

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I looked forward to completing this week’s assignments, as I had not gotten to see “Moonlight” before, and this gave me the opportunity to see the film. In general, I’ll be discussing in this post how I was able to apply this week’s readings to “Moonlight.”

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In “Popular Culture and Queer Representation,” Diane Raymond observes that, while gay characters are making more frequent appearances in media than ever, they are often stereotyped or used in tropes. While these depictions are not necessarily harmful, she also notes that “hardly ever shown in the media are just plain gay folks,” living complex, developing lives like other characters. I think this is one of the places where “Moonlight” excels. While Chiron’s sexuality clearly plays a major role in his development, he is also affected by many other factors, like his mother’s drug addiction, the setting of his upbringing, and his desire to find a father figure in his early life. All these aspects combine to make Chiron a highly developed character, rather than simply a “token” gay man. My reaction to “Moonlight” was echoed in David Sexton’s article in The Diamondback, which praises the way “Moonlight” blends race, class, and sexuality to build Chiron’s identity in a way that few other films do.

“Moonlight” also marks a significant leap forward in American cinema’s attitude towards queer characters. While GLAAD rated all major television networks to have at least “adequate” LGBT inclusion, none of the Top 100 LGBT Films at that time were also on the nationwide Top 100 list, according to “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It.” This is probably due to a number of factors, but a large one is likely that the approximately 90% of straight Americans do not feel like they can connect with a queer character, and thus are not interested in the films. This is similar to the problems of Fourth Cinema producers that we studied, who debated whether to make films specifically for Native Americans and accept a dramatically smaller audience, or broaden their audience but limit their films’ resonance with Native Americans. “Moonlight” helps to bridge this gap by showing audiences that queer characters are not defined exclusively by their sexuality, and when well developed, offer a host of ways audiences can connect with them.

This “bridging the gap” approach is also taken by Marvel Comics for one of their newest heroines, America Chavez. As a queer Latina woman, it appears on the surface that she would not appeal strongly to the typically male-dominated comic book audience. However, Marvel hopes to depict a number of broad identities, including different races, socioeconomic classes, and sexualities, as you would find in a modern American city. This compromise allows America to be a powerful example of strength for queer comic fans, as the rise of black heroes were for young black boys. At the same time, a wide variety of people will be able to find a character they can relate to in “America,” allowing Marvel to reach a wider audience and increase the visibility of queer characters in mainstream culture.

Overall, I think these efforts to introduce highly developed queer characters, whose sexuality is just one of many factors that shape their development, has been a source of tremendous growth for queer representation in media. While I may not connect closely with a gay character, for example, anyone can connect with a complex character that feels “real,” like Chiron in “Moonlight.” By facilitating connections between straight audiences and queer characters, producers can increase their media share and obtain more power to control the depictions of queer people in mass media.

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