Sunday 25 June 2017

MOONLIGHT (a review)

In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue. This was the original title for Barry Jenkins' Oscar winning film 'Moonlight'. The film was based on an unpublished, semi-autobiographical play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. I missed it during the pre-Oscars season buzz, so when I saw it playing for one day only on a random June afternoon, I jumped out of my lethargic skin and dove into the empty cinema. After the film had started I was joined by a group of three strangers, but I pretended it was just me and Chiron. And some popcorn. (It wasn't a popcorn eating type of film, but hey, where else am I gonna eat popcorn?).

Moonlight is a triptych. A piece of art. The sound of the sea begins the film, and a seaside palette of Provence blue and daffodil yellow bathes our eyes at unexpected moments, so you begin to float, suspending fear, anxiety, prejudice. You are 'Little' Chiron, held loosely but safely in the hands of Juan. Mehershala Ali won that Oscar because even though his character mysteriously disappears a third into the film, you feel his ghostly presence throughout. Weaving in and out on classical strings, Cuban and hip hop beats. 

But at the same time that sudden absence also made me tighten up, and I couldn't relax into the lyrical beauty. I wouldn't let myself cry until the film had ended, the credits were rolling and I realised Barry Jenkins had kept us safe throughout. I don't think I've ever talked to a film director in my head before, but I was willing Jenkins not to let me, us, fall through all the cracks we already know exist for Chiron and his kind of invisible blue blackness.
'Moonlight' is as serious as it gets and as loving. The two faces of woman in the film aren't polarised through moral judgement. They are just being themselves - human, fallible, trying. Failing, losing, surviving. Loving. Speaking of love, I think I'll watch anything with Janelle Monae - she has such a fierce, feisty, authentic presence here as in 'Hidden Figures'. And Naomie Harris - from Bond woman to crack addict - a powerhouse performance.

There is a moment at the beginning of the film when little Chiron looks up at Juan - a side along gaze that asks with big eyes, 'Who are you?' Why should I trust you, say those eyes. When Chiron's mother meets Juan for the first time, she looks at him, eyes heavy with suspicion. 'And who is you?' Juan replies: 'I'm nobody'. And finally, towards the end, the second love of Chiron's life, Kevin, asks the same question: 'Who is you?' And with that question, there is a chance for Chiron to not answer: 'I'm nobody'. He is being offered a chance to be somebody. To someone. 
'Who is you?' is the heartbeat of the film, echoed, mirrored. We grow up and into ourselves, and some of us get to be loved by people who ask that question of us, who listen for the answer. Who wait for the answer. Even when it changes. 

Saturday 17 June 2017


In the middle of a YouTube interview with
Zadie Smith, and therefore the middle of
my own imaginary conversation where it's
really me interviewing Zadie Smith or being
interviewed beside Zadie Smith, I pause.

Birdsong is emanating from my father's room. 

(C) Shaista Tayabali, 2017

Sunday 4 June 2017


for Richard, who misses my blog posts

It seems strange to speak of joy, or write of joy, when all around us joyless events directed by joyless people rip at the fabric of our lives. Every day I look about me and give thanks for clouds in the sky, and not drones, for roses beginning to climb our trellis, and not militia, for my mother loudly shooing away the muntjac and a squirrel I've named Nutkin, rather than... anything else. None of these are small things. They constitute the biggest thing of all - freedom. A word that almost feels sacred now. Almost like superstition. Better not utter it out loud, in case those that lurk in the dark places encroach upon your light. 

And yet of course this is the paradox of a life like mine: if you keep small, and hide away as much as possible, tending to the bird feeder and sorting through your books, you wonder if after all you ought to be trying for the other life, the one with the spotlight and the megaphone, denouncing hatred, fighting for rights, yours and those denied others. Then your body reminds you of its tumultuous nature - scar tissue, antibiotics and a twenty year long fight to stay alive.

Into my small but sweet life, a fellow patient gave me The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. My friend is Italian so the book was actually called Il Magico Potere Del Riordino. It was her personal copy, with notes to herself inscribed in pencil. It has taken me a few years to actually begin the process of tidying up my life in the specifically thorough way offered by Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo. The KonMari method.

There are two books, actually. The second is called Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying, and this one is filled with delightful illustrations. There is a certain order to the process but always the same outcome - to spark joy from the tiniest of your possessions. Gather your belongings into their particular categories. Hold each object in your hands, and consider it. If the time has come to send it on its way, thank it before you despatch it. [The first edition was given to me by my friend Angelica, and the second guide by my sister Angelina. I take my angels where I get them.] 

I find myself telling people truthfully what I am 'up to' - facing that dreaded question of 'What are you doing now? Have you published your book yet?' If only writing a book and publishing it were as natural a pair of siblings as we imagine when first embarking on that book. I have tentatively begun the second - never mind what it's about - but first, I have a date with a woman named Marie, who is leading me towards a certain joy.