Charlie Rose, Lauryn Hill and ‘Moonlight’
This past weekend, “Charlie Rose” hosted a roundtable featuring Barry Jenkins, writer/director of Moonlight – a sublime cinematic meditation on race, class, queerness, and the construction of contemporary Black male masculinity – and members of his cast: Trevante Rhodes, Naomi Harris, and André Holland. The conversation, in keeping with the post-screening Q&As that have taken place throughout the film’s wildly successful festival run, as well as the many interviews Jenkins and his cast have done in support of the film, was some of the smartest, most insightful grappling with its themes and issues you will find in pop culture forums. Jenkins (who is not gay), in particular, seems to have ingested endless volumes of queer theory, critical race theory, and feminist theory, stripped them of dogma and didacticism, and gotten at the core of the human struggle (in particular) and the assorted internal and external battles queer Black men wage just to survive. His first film, the underrated/little seen Medicine for Melancholy (2008) showed he was a keen, insightful student of film. Moonlight shows he’s a master in the making.
Pushing the evening’s programming to inspired heights was Lauryn Hill’s closing performance of “Rebel/I Find It Hard to Say,” first heard as something of a song sketch on her controversial 2002 MTV Unplugged concert. That performance was when Hill debuted a shorn, somewhat stern version of her persona, spitting lyrics that were defiant, wounded, and ringed with spirituality. Her emotional fragility during the performance was discomfiting for many viewers and led to much speculation about her mental health. It also burned off a large section of her pop fan base.
The version of “Rebel” that Ms. Hill performed on “Charlie Rose” was fleshed out with a full, powerful band and new arrangement. Raspy-voiced and confident, she delivered a performance that tapped into righteous indignation in the rally for inner strength and self-determination. It’s a shouting down of powers-that-be and a gathering of all one’s internal troops. As such, it was an absolutely perfect cap to an evening dedicated to a film about a character at war with so much of the world around him in order to create and salvage himself. Check out the panel and Hill’s performance below.
Top image, still from ‘Moonlight,’ courtesy of Ashton Sanders by David Bornfriend/AP