“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” – Juan, Moonlight
With the recent success of “Moonlight” (2016), especially on winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, I thought it was worth examining another phenomenal movie in comparison when it comes to telling stories about growing up as a male in America. Boyhood (2014), is a movie that followed “Mason” from adolescent into young adulthood. Similarly, Moonlight followed “Chiron” from an adolescent into young adulthood. The differences between the two movies were mainly on race (Mason is white, Chiron is Black), and sexual orientation. The only other differences that were obvious was that Mason had a sibling (Samantha) and both boys grew up in different states (Mason grew up in Texas and Chiron grew up in Florida).
There were numerous similarities between the two movies, however. For one, both Mason and Chiron were raised by struggling single mothers. A gun was present in both movies, as well as marijuana. I would also add that even though both individuals grew up in hardship, there were still spaces and instances where both got to enjoy being a child. One point of dispute was determining the tax bracket that each individual’s family fell under. It is certain that Mason’s mother started the movie as a low-wage worker, but she was able to return to school and move into a middle-class lifestyle. Chiron’s mother wasn’t as fortunate; she was a low-wage worker and an avid drug-addict. Later in the movie, she does seek help for her drug-use and was able to arrange a live-and-work with the institution she was seeking help from. In addition, although both single mothers were separated from Mason’s and Chiron’s fathers, Mason’s father still made an active effort to be part of Mason’s life. Again, Chiron wasn’t as fortunate.
Within all these hardships, both Mason and Chiron learned some heart-felt lessons from adults in their lives. From these lessons and their individual experiences, both boys were able to form theories on what life is all about. In order to examine both Mason’s and Chiron’s experiences in an organized manner, I will be comparing both of their upbringing through three different categories; curiosity, outlets, and path. I chose these three categories, because being a male myself in his mid-20s, I strongly feel these categories inevitably determine what type of a man a young male grows into. So, let’s start with curiosity.
There was no doubt that both Mason and Chiron were some curious boys, as it is true with most adolescents. However, how both boys’ curiosities were met, I would argue, really affected how both communicated as young adults and the paths that both took into being young men. From the onset of “Boyhood,” you realize how attentive Mason’s mother was to Mason’s curiosity and activities. In other words, the relationship between son and mother in Mason’s case was very expressive. In Mason’s household, the children were invited to give input in decision-making (e.g. moving to Houston). And even though Mason’s mother tried to hide certain situations from Mason and his sister, the two kids still knew what was going on relatively. In essence, a large portion of Mason’s curiosity was answered by his parents (either his mother or father), and Mason’s peers played a role in answering questions that he felt he couldn’t ask his parents.
Chiron, on the other hand, rarely asked his mother any questions. In fact, Chiron rarely spoke at all. It was fortunate that Chiron met Juan (and Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa); who Chiron was able to direct some of his curiosity to. Juan, who saw himself when he was younger in Chiron, opened his doors to Chiron after finding him in an abandoned house where drug-users usually hung out. Other than Juan, Chiron was only left to satisfy his curiosity through his friend, Kevin, and the rest of his peers.
In turn, when Mason grew into a young man, he was still able to express his curiosities and create his own theories on what was really going on. Chiron, however, was still quiet as a young man, and it seemed his only theory on life was to survive through it the best way he knew how. This is most evident when it came to sex. In “Boyhood,” there is a scene when Mason’s dad talks to both Mason and his sister about protective sex. Similarly, Mason’s dad’s brother also talks about using protection to Mason when he graduated high school and was on his way to college. The biggest sex lessons that Chiron received was a scene when his peers and him were comparing penis sizes in a neglected room at school and the day he asked Juan what a “faggot” meant. Juan explained to Chiron that “…you can be gay, but you don’t have to let nobody call you a faggot.” In sum, when it came to sexual curiosity, Mason was informed; both through his parent and his peers. Chiron, however, learned through trial with his friend, Kevin.
When it came to outlets in both films, drugs (such as marijuana and alcohol) primarily came through peer-pressure. Although, Mason was peer-pressured through his friends drinking beer and smoking, while Chiron seemed to have already knew how to smoke from the drugs his mother “left around.” Other outlets for Mason included photography, going on trips and events with his father, and generally hanging out with his friends.
Chiron, on the other hand, didn’t have many friends outside of Kevin, Juan, and Teresa. And there were no major outlets for Chiron to really express himself. The lack of outlets, coupled with being bullied all the time, led Chiron to violence and inevitably getting in trouble with the law. I would add that his only other outlet was staring at the water, or in essence, finding quiet spaces to reflect. Outlets are crucial growing up; because we later see that within these outlets is where both boys decided what they wanted to pursue as young men. Mason got into photography, had a talent for it, and received a scholarship to pursue it further in college. Chiron, on the flip side, continued to dabble with the law, even after he was released from prison, by getting into“trapping.”
Lastly, it is easy to see that Mason and Chiron chose their paths into young adulthood through the most influential people during their adolescents. Mason, seeing his mother elevate her life through schooling, followed his older sister in going off to college. Although, through Mason’s own critical thinking, he realizes that life was about continuing to explore his curiosities. One of the most powerful scenes throughout Boyhood, was when Mason’s mother broke down crying before he left for college. When she realized she had reached all the societal milestones and the next big thing in her life was her funeral, I think that scene helped Mason appreciate his artistic view on life. At the end of “Boyhood,” I felt as if Mason understood that he had to fulfill the societal obligations but still live in a way where ‘moments seized him’ rather than the other way around.
Chiron, followed Juan’s footsteps, even if Juan didn’t teach him the way. Chiron knew that Juan sold drugs, but I don’t think he was counting on following that path until he went to jail. As we later find out in Moonlight, his friend Kevin was also a convict, and while Kevin chose to be a cook and couldn’t return to the “streets” because of his daughter, Chiron was nudged to sell drugs by a friend from jail. However, Chiron didn’t get comfortable being a street soldier, he made sure he rose up in the game to a point that he had workers under him, just like Juan. And just like Juan, he was passing on important lessons about the streets to those under him.
I hope you enjoyed my brief comparison between “Boyhood” and “Moonlight.” I encourage readers to check out both movies (if you haven’t already) and make their own comparisons, and maybe even start discussion. Sorry for the spoilers.
Izzy Okunlola is a Nigerian native who grew up in Providence, RI. He is a 2015 graduate of DePauw University and is currently working as the youth organizer for Granite State Organizing Project. He is a bit of an introvert and philosophical in nature, but also loves to travel, enjoys photography, and appreciates all forms of art. He has been described as a young “renaissance” man, plagued by a compulsive obsession with time and food. You can reach him at Israel.firstname.lastname@example.org.