In “Moonlight,” actor Trevante Rhodes plays Chiron (AKA Black), a gay drug dealer living in Atlanta who reconnects with someone from his childhood past. This is the third “chapter” of the film, which is directed by Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”). The first two chapters follow Chiron during his child and teenage years as he begins to question his sexual identity and survive an emotionally abusive life with his drug-addicted mother.
During an interview with me last week, Rhodes, 26, talked about how he hopes audiences see “Moonlight” as more than just a great LGBT film, and explains what he would tell close-minded people who today still do not accept the LGBT lifestyle.
What was it about the script for “Moonlight” that spoke to you?
Honestly, the script was the best thing I had ever read. I had never seen a narrative like this put to the screen. I had never seen black people or gay people portrayed this way. When you see a gay man [in a film], he is basically just flamboyant and that’s his contribution to the film. When you see a black person, they’re typical a gangster or a cop and that’s their contribution. I like that we’re able to show that we’re all multifaceted individuals.
Do you feel there is enough opportunity for you as a black actor in Hollywood?
I think we’re getting to a better place with movies like “Moonlight.” The last four directors that I’ve worked with have been black men. Obviously, we’re getting to a position where it’s relatively equal. At the same time, no. The answer is yeah and no. Most of what you see is predominately white. But we’re getting to a place where Asians and Hispanics are leads in shows. We’re getting to a place of cohesion. It’s not great, but we’re on our way.
Would you consider “Moonlight” the highlight of your career thus far?
I’m a little over three years in [the industry] and I’ve always been blessed with opportunities for whatever reason. I’ve been trying my best to maximize those opportunities. “Moonlight” has been the best of those opportunities. People are seeing my work.
Do you hope a film like “Moonlight” puts more LGBT films in the mainstream and gets them out of a niche genre category?
Absolutely. Again, I think we’re getting to a place where we have more [gay] characters. I want a film like “Moonlight” looked at not just as an LGBT film. I want people to see it as a film about human life and have these characters be at the forefront. I think “Moonlight” is something that is going to help push that envelope forward. It’s a phenomenal thing. Whenever you don’t see yourself on television, you feel like you’re underrepresented or nonexistent. The fact that we’re getting to a place where everybody in the world is being represented in a positive light is great.
How does it feel starring in what is easily one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year?
It’s incredible. It’s the best sensation I’ve ever felt in my life. I put my heart into everything I do, so to have this incredible reception from everyone is validating. It’s how I feel about humanity. I’m very hopeful we’ll all get to a certain place where we all understand that love is the most important thing. The fact that people are receiving the film shows we are thirsty for that understanding as a collective. I’m super exciting about that and all the buzz [the film] is getting because that will prompt more people to go out and see the film. There might be a hesitancy for people to go see the film for whatever reason, but those are the people who need to see the film the most.
What do you say to those people who refuse to accept same-sex couples?
I say go see the film and love yourself. Listen, if you go see the film, you’ll understand that we’re all the same regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender. We are literally all the same and looking for the same thing—love and connection and understanding. Until they understand that, I would ask, “What is your contribution to the world?”
I was really disappointed back in 2005 when “Brokeback Mountain” didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Some people said it was because the Academy wasn’t ready for a film like that. What do you think about that idea that Hollywood just wasn’t ready to fully embrace a film about two gay men? Do you think they are now?
I would assume so. I would hope Hollywood is ready now. It seems to me that the world is ready. The industry is a reflection of the world or it should be when it’s at its best. I’m hopeful that the industry is ready now.
Talk to me about the two young men who play your character earlier in his life. What did they bring to Chiron during their sections of the film?
I thought the casting was incredible because it’s such a fluid transition [between chapters]. Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders are just incredible actors. It was an insane thing to watch the film for the first time and see this transition between all three of us. I really felt invested. I felt like it was a reincarnation of my life, especially little Alex. He looked so much like me. We didn’t have the opportunity to meet each other until later. It was a very unique process. I wanted to find some kind of semblance of what the younger versions of the character were doing to form that cohesiveness, but [Director] Barry [Jenkins] didn’t want us to focus on that. He was really adamant about not allowing us to mimic.
Are you ready to take on the responsibility that might come with starring in a film about a gay man? Are you ready to talk about LGBT issues and rights and other subjects people might want to ask you about?
That’s part of the luxury of being able to put people on a platform and shine a light on certain things. That’s part of why you do the job. You want to contribute to progressing humanity in the best way. Whatever way I can do that, I will. I am 1,000 percent ready for it.