Food, With Love
by Skyler Tapley
Moonlight (2016) is the story of Chiron, an African American man, coming of age and making sense of his sexuality in a drug-ridden neighborhood of Miami. The film is shown in three acts. The first is Chiron as a child when he is called “Little,” the second is during high school, and the third and final act is a decade later when he has become “Black.” Within these acts the food scenes play an important role in expressing the feeling of love throughout the movie.
In the first act we see a childhood ideal. Little is picked on by all of the other kids and doesn’t have a sense of home or a safe place. His mother is a crack addict and cannot support him fully. When he meets Juan, a strong and confident drug dealer, it allows a father figure into his life for the first time. They share a meal first at a diner before Juan takes him back home to meet Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend. Teresa prepares a meal for Little, and all three of them sit together at the table as a family. This moment is when Little bonds with Teresa and Juan and they become a significant part of his life and give him the love he’s been needing. They support him and try to let him feel loved as he starts to realize his sexual orientation.
In the second act we see adolescent respite. Chiron is trying to find his way through high school. Juan has died and Chiron struggles to find a place that he can feel love. After his mother kicks him out for the night, Chiron goes to stay with Teresa. Again, they share a meal together, this time just the two of them. She cares deeply for Chiron and makes sure he knows that he is always welcome. Throughout the entire act Chiron goes through the trials of high school still slowly coming to terms with his sexuality. This moment with Teresa and a meal at her table is one of the only times in this entire act that Chiron truly seems safe and in a loving environment.
In the final act we see adult intimacy. Chiron has turned into a different person. He comes out of jail now as Black, a nickname given to him previously from Kevin, a childhood friend with whom he shared his first sexual experience with in act two. Black is bigger, stronger, and “hard.” He resembles Juan and has ended up in the same career line as him: a drug dealer working the streets, this time in Atlanta. He receives a spontaneous phone call from Kevin. Kevin is a chef at a diner and offers to cook Black a meal if he is ever in town. Black decides to go see the only man who has ever touched him sexually. He arrives at Kevin’s work — a diner. The atmosphere is immediately a comfortable one back in the presence of food. Kevin decides to make him the “Chef’s Special.”
This is where something special happens. For the first time in the film we see a preparation of food. We join Kevin in the kitchen and witness the love that comes from a man preparing food for another man. At this point the cinematography plays a very important role. The close-ups show the care that has gone into the food. The lighting is crisp and accentuates the food. The diegetic sounds of a diner have been replaced by a musical score, capturing the beauty of the moment. The scene is shot in slow-motion and gives the feeling of life slowing down. The time and significance that was being put into this food from one man to another is captured in these sixty seconds. It is a beautiful moment, and one that evokes tenderness and closeness between two men, all through food (figure 1).
Throughout these three acts, a story of love and intimacy is created within a world of pain and suffering. Chiron endures the threatening world by sharing these moments of food with loved ones. These food scenes allow the viewer to see what Chiron longs for and how a dangerous world cannot breach the safe haven of a meal shared with people one loves. It paints a picture of how hard a life can be for a homosexual African American man, but it also shows the value that there is within a moment shared over food. Moonlight not only gives one the understanding of a life filled with pain and suffering and how that shapes one’s identity, but it also showcases the power behind food; and how love and intimacy can remain in one’s life no matter what.
Moonlight. Dir. Barry Jenkins. A24, 2016. Film.