‘Little’ is taciturn yet manages to speak volumes through those doleful eyes like that of an abused mutt in a rescue shelter. Bullied, hounded, scared and tired serendipity presents Juan to his rescue. An improbable and paradoxical sanctuary from the apathy at home and the violence outside. The first feel of the Atlantic, someone to prop him afloat, to tutor his strokes, to chaperone him while he wrestles with the deep and then shares his sense of elation after he has emerged triumphant. An insensitive society forces a child to grapple with questions about his sexual identity. Any departure from the established norms is deemed divergent and an inquisition is expressly instituted. That is what society drills into you from the time you are born. Different is bad.
Mahershala Ali as the hood’s drug boss who has grown a conscience and Alex Hibbert as the lost ‘Little’ are both stellar.
‘Chiron’ is the gangly teenager who is flying solo in a hostile environment in search of sexual affirmation and in the quest of a confidant after Juan’s demise. He isn’t able to get through to his drug ravaged mother (sumptuously played by Naomie Harris) despite his repeated attempts. In walks the masquerader Kevin (Jharell Jerome) to ‘hand’ him his sexual affirmation as well as the tenuous promise of companionship. That is short-lived as society conspires to push Black (Ashton Sanders) to the precipice and he jumps. He jumps his assailant, jumps away from Kevin and jumps into the embrace of the law. A black life has yet again fulfilled its destiny.
‘Black’ rises from the ashes of Chiron. He has built a facade of steel which serves as the bulwark that protects the tender core. He is now a man of the street who has modeled himself after his mentor Juan. All the weaknesses that were buried deep after his metamorphosis are exhumed in a instant when the phone rings. It was as if he had spent all of this time preparing for this moment to arrive. The reunion is at first tentative, a frantic dash between the past and the present ensues next and finally a reconciliation of the past, an acknowledgment of the present and a promise for the future is forged.
Barry Jenkins succeeds in fabricating a lucid interpretation of a very complex multilayered subject. The storytelling is profoundly metaphorical. He hasn’t overdramatized the stereotypes and his actors have kept it real. It feels like he has channeled his personal experiences into the screenplay and thus has been able to impart the effortless realism a story like this warrants. The Ocean is the central metaphor for the wellspring of hope which presents itself at various junctures of the movie to suggest that is it always around for those lives that are blanketed by despondency and misery.
If Shakespeare birthed the concept of seven ages of a man then it would only be fair to say that Jenkins birthed the three stages of a (gay) black man.
The scourges of absentee fathers, rampant drug abuse, homophobia and chronic poverty are all so real and this movie does well to shine the moonlight on the impacts. Beautifully done.