“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”
The 2016 American coming-of-age drama film Moonlight has a scene on the beach in its second act. The film’s protagonist, Chiron, sits on the sand with his friend Kevin under the moonlight. The sixteen year old boys share a blunt as we see Chiron opening up to another person in a way he never has before.
“You cry?” Chiron asks.
“Nah. [The breeze] makes me want to,” says Kevin. “What you cry about?”
“Shit, I cry so much, sometimes I feel like Imma just turn into drops.”
In more ways than one, Chiron allows himself to be vulnerable here. The moonlit beach creates a space where it’s just him and Kevin. For the moment, Chiron is away from his drug infested inner city Miami ’hood that houses bullies and his drug addicted emotionally abusive mother.
“I wanna do a lot of things that don’t make sense,” says Chiron, voicing desires from his inner world for the first time.
“Like what ‘lot of things’?” Kevin asks.
Being able to transcend the trappings of toxic Black masculinity in that liminal moment, the boys kiss.
The moonlight imagery is intrinsic to the film. Under the moonlight Chiron lets down his guard, allows his true self to emerge.
Moonlight imagery is also intrinsic to the song 4 o’clock by South Korean boy band BTS members V and RM. V wrote and composed the song with RM when he was grieving for his expired grandmother. The song indirectly refers to another BTS member, Jimin, as the friend who helped and supported V through his grief.
The song is about waiting for a friend. Waiting for someone who is not there whether it be someone who is gone (deceased) or someone who is yet to come. 4 A.M. is a time of waiting. Waiting for the day to begin, waiting for the darkness to pass. It is also a time of rest and reflection and solitude. Or (if you have been awake through the night) of weariness and feeling battered.
The song starts:
“I wrote a long, long letter to the moon”
In the singer’s solitude the moon is his only witness. The moon is the figure overlooking our lives as we struggle everyday. To write a letter to the moon is to try and speak to the indifferent universe, to make the universe acknowledge one’s existence, to make one’s particular universal.
“It would not be brighter than you
But I lit a small candle”
Candles are a symbol of remembrance, hope, resistance and struggle. During protests and mourning, people light candles, hold candlelight marches and vigils for a reason. It might not burn as bright or mighty as the moon but the small flame burns intensely against the onslaught of the wind and rain and darkness. It is a symbol of life fighting the elements.
“At a dusky park”
Dusk – the liminal space between day and night, a space where worlds meet.
“A nameless bird that sings
Where are you
Why are you crying
You and I are the only ones here
Me and you
A nameless bird – the bird is the response of the universe, the answer to the singer’s letter, a being just as particular, as vulnerable as the persona. It is the friend the singer is waiting for searching for the singer in return. The friend is both the person being grieved for (grandmother) and the person offering comfort for that grief (Jimin). It is the two of them in this intimate moment following each other’s echoes. As if calling out from another world, the bird is the voices of those who have gone before us, alone, vulnerable as we are. The voice of the bird reassures the you that it is a safe space with only the two of you in existence. The bird cares, the indifferent void is not completely indifferent. You are not alone.
“Following into the deep night
The sound of you singing
Brings the red morning
A step, and another step
The dawn passes
And when that moon falls asleep
The blue shade that stayed with me disappears”
Through the metaphor of the moon V talks about those times in life when we’re living in grief and hardship, alone with our feelings. The friend we’re waiting for leads us step by step through the dawn into light where the moon sleeps and the blue shade disappears.
But the blue shade isn’t bad; RM’s verse tells us that though under the blue shade we suffer and are alone, it is also something that belongs to us.
“Even today, I live moderately
I walk in pace moderately, wearing down
The sun suffocates me
And the world strips me naked
I can't help it, there's no other way
I collect myself that's shattered beneath the moonlight”
The sunlight is suffocating while the moonlight is the time of repose when we gather ourselves and start again. Under the sun, the day time, is when one lives amongst others, struggles over and over. At night, beneath the moon, when one is alone, one’s true naked self gathers pieces of one’s shattered soul. We toil during the day and reflect and heal during the night. Both are moments of suffering, yes, but while one tears us down, the other builds us up.
In the movie, Juan, Chiron’s only father figure, tells him a story:
“I was a wild lil’ shorty man, just like you. Runnin’ around with no shoes on when the moon was out. This one time I run by this old lady. I was runnin’, hollerin’, cuttin’ a fool boy. This old lady, she stopped me. She said, ‘Running around, catching up all that light. In moonlight...black boys look blue. You blue. That’s what I gon’ call you. Blue.’”
“So your name Blue?” nine year old Chiron asks.
“Nah,” says Juan. “At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gon’ be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
Taken in the context of this scene the line “In moonlight...black boys look blue” means that our environment colours us. We are shaped by the people around us, the places we live in. And we can’t let that define us.
“I call you moonchild
We are the children of the moon
I breathe the cold night air
Yes we're livin' and dyin'
At the same time
But you can open your eyes for now
Just like that any movie, like the line (from the movie)
The entire world is blue inside the moonlight”
The blue shade is something under which we grow and live and come into our own. We might be coloured by our environment but it is also the cradle, the sandbox where we figure out who we are. Like a parent, the moon provides a secure environment for us to unravel and cry. The blue shade surrounds us, enveloping us until we are a part of the moonlight.
The boys on the beach are children of the moon. They are shaped by their world, yes, and in that moment the world is a space where they are both blue, vulnerable, equal, their true selves. When the moon colours us blue, when the blue shade envelops us, we leave behind our hardships and our personas from the day. The world takes on a new, friendlier hue that is welcoming and nourishing. The passage of time stops and we can stop living and dying and just breathe.
V ends the song with:
“A step, and another step
The dawn passes
And when that moon falls asleep”
He leaves the last part “The blue shade that stayed with me disappears” unvoiced, leaving behind a sense of expectancy and incompleteness. It is up to the listener to fill that gap. The unvoiced words imply that after the period of rest and healing we are alone again, but it is up to us what we make of the dawn. It is up to us whether the blue shade disappears or remains or whether something else entirely happens. We have agency.
Under the moonlight we are blue. Whether we allow the world to define us and our colour or whether we use the blue shade to open up and connect and heal and rise is up to us. The sun and the moon will rise again.
Lyrics taken from: https://genius.com/Bts-4-oclock-lyrics