February 11, 2022
Thanks to Gabriel E. Etienne, a 2021 Fellow in Ideas recipient, for today’s post.
The movie Moonlight is a coming-of-age story that details the complexity of the journey of boyhood to manhood of the character Little/Black/Chiron through the issues of authentic Blackness and hegemonic masculinity (Johnson 2003). This review uses the concepts of Quiet and Silence to view and understand the movie Moonlight.
The exploration of Little/Black/Chiron’s Quiet is the film’s strength and adds importance when we think about Black men, their sexuality, and their experiences regarding their identity development. With the lack of sound throughout the film, we, the audience experience the position of a voyeur and are allowed to feel the interior of Little/Black/Chiron, wherein if there were sounds that directed where/what to feel, we may miss a central argument. In other words, in the locus of identity creation, exploration, and development for Black men, the journey is Quiet. Kevin Quashie writes, “The interior is the inner reservoir of thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, ambitions that shape a human self; it is both a space of a wild self-indulgence and the locus at which self-interrogation takes place” (Quashie 2005:334; Spillers 2003:383).
Throughout Moonlight, the Quietness is most apparent when Little/Black/Chiron is alone. However, it is also present in conversations surrounding Little/Black/Chiron’s sexuality. Where sound may guide the audience to feel, understand, and have insight into the plot and characters’ subjectivity, the audience as the voyeur or watcher of Little/Black/Chiron’s life, are left in the Quiet and perhaps experience self-interrogation.
In everyday discourse, Quiet is synonymous with Silence and is the absence of sound or movement, but for the idea of Quiet to be useful here, it will need to be as a quality or a sensibility of being, as a manner of expression. Such expressiveness is not concerned with publicness but instead is the expressiveness of the interior. That is, a person’s Quiet represents the broad scope of their inner life. The Quiet symbolizes—and if interrogated, expresses—some of the capacity of the interior (334).
Under Quashie’s concept of Quiet, we can understand Little/Black/Chiron’s Quietness as an expression of his interior. Little/Black/Chiron responds to his interrogators with Quiet. However, there are a few scenes where his response is loud, and when they are, they have serious consequences—one being when he is sent to Juvie for assaulting his bully. Additionally, Quashie’s separation of Quiet and Silence clarifies Little/Black/Chiron’s journey.
The concept of Silence has been used as a trope for masculinity within Black spaces to signal “dysfunctional denial of sexual difference and the imperialism of patriarchy” (Johnson 2003:31). Additionally, Silence has been connected to masculinity and feelings of vulnerability. Marlon Riggs recites:
To be a black man required a code of Silence. You didn’t express your feelings. You couldn’t acknowledge hurt, pain, and rage and anger. And what that engendered was Silence. No one talked to each other, because that would have been admitting vulnerability and vulnerability was associated with being feminine (Johnson 2003:31; Riggs 1989)
The silence expressed by Little/Black/Chiron signals feelings of pain, vulnerability and rage. Both Quietness and Silence assist the viewer in understanding Little/Black/Chiron on his journey from boyhood to manhood. Although Little/Black/Chiron journey’s combines both systemic and personal struggle, Quashie warns us that only situating Black Quiet/Silence in situations of resistance of Whiteness, or systems of oppression, reduces the intimacy of Black Quiet (Quashie 2005).
Johnson, E. Patrick. “Appropriating Blackness.” 2003.
Quashie, Kevin. 2005. The Sovereignty of Quiet – Beyond Resistance in Black Culture. Rutgers University Press.
Riggs, Marlon T. Tongues Untied. 1989.
Spillers, Hortense J. Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2003.
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