‘Moonlight’: Trevante Rhodes’ portrayal of a Black gay man banishes stereotypes
A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young Black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. At once a vital portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love, Moonlight is a groundbreaking piece of cinema that reverberates with deep compassion and universal truths. Anchored by extraordinary performances from a tremendous ensemble cast, director Barry Jenkins’s staggering, singular vision is profoundly moving in its portrayal of the moments, people, and unknowable forces that shape our lives and make us who we are. –A24 Films
The trailer and synopsis simply can’t give this film the exposure it deserves. This writer only hopes her conversation with actor Trevante Rhodes can do it justice. This must-see film is about a Black man coming of age in South Florida is told in three different stages — child, teenager and young adult.
Rhodes plays the character of Chiron in the third trimester of the film who’s embraced his sexuality and adopts the nickname, Black while living in Atlanta.
How did you become a part of this project?
My manager called me and she said, ‘you need to stop whatever you are doing. This is the best thing I’ve read.’ Indeed, for me too, it was the best thing I’ve ever read. I went in for the role of Kevin, played by André Holland [Selma, Black or White]. Barry stops me halfway through the audition and tells me, “No, I want you to play the other guy.” Two days later, I booked the role.
Did you have any concerns portraying a gay Black man living in Atlanta who sold drugs?
Not at all … I thought it was a great opportunity and [would] be super liberating to tell a story so specific like this. I felt it would be a light for people, and help people feel secure about certain situations.
I am not glorifying anything. In regards to the drug dealer, I feel that everyone at some point in time goes through things to making them who they are. In Chiron’s case, he had Juan [Mahershala Ali] who was the best depiction of a great human being he had. It was only his only positive role model and his only choice. I understood that. My mother is the most important person I know and I try to be the same as she. The context is different but I related.
In regard to being a gay man, Chiron breaks every stereotype. Typically you’d see flamboyance portrayed in film. Again, it was liberating to embody this person who broke down those stereotypes.
How did you prepare for your role in Moonlight?
For me, I walked around Los Angeles in the skin of this person. I developed a lot of self-hate, insecurities and feeling I had a secret to hide from people. If I connected with someone they would be able to see through me and see past the exterior. I brought it into the work.
What was it like working with director Barry Jenkins?
I am an inquisitive person and Barry is so intellectual, giving and caring. No matter the question, he was able to answer it thoroughly. He is like my big brother to be honest with you so it was the best experience.
Did any of your training or past characters inform your character for this film?
I am still learning a process. I was fortunate to work with Naomie and André who both have completely different processes. Mine was trying to learn the words, live in this space and trying to elevate my game to be completely honest … and, inviting this person, inhabiting this skin that I built upon prior to shooting. Again just being free and open to live in this space and breathe with these people.
From project start to finish, what did you learn working with Naomie Harris in Moonlight?
She’s a beautiful person outside and in. It was awesome to learn from her. I fell in love with acting during a scene with her. I legitimately coin it as the time. It was the most impressive sensation I’ve ever felt. I was completely invested in what was going on with this person whom I believed to be my mother. I was just in awe of her performance and the way she carried herself. I used her, Mahershala [Ali] and Andre [Holland] as staples to elevate to.