Abstract

Contemporary movements against state-sanctioned violence have used rhetorical refrains to mark and practice dissent, as evidenced by the proliferation of “hands up, don't shoot”; “#sayhername”; and “#blacklivesmatter.” These refrains provide a specific discourse through which critiques of violence, surveillance, and economic injustice are galvanized, connecting activists and demonstrators across geospatial and temporal landscapes. Political refrains are more than just rallying cries; they also function as edicts, as commands that often disrupt the very practices they name. In this article, I argue that Barry Jenkins's use of the “Don't look at me!” refrain in Moonlight, expressed by Little/Black's mother, Paula, functions to name and obfuscate the racialized and gendered surveillance of Black deviance throughout the film. Set in the midst of the War on Drugs, culture of poverty thesis, and a post-Moynihan Report political culture that blamed the failure of the Black community on the Black matriarch, Moonlight offers an alternative reading strategy that instead of re-pathologizing Black motherhood and queer sociality actually renders visible and mutable the controlling images used to surveil and flatten Black subjectivity. Paula's “Don't look at me!” attempts to render her own body out of sight in order to ask viewers to look beyond her, to shift the pathologizing lens away from her to instead think of the various systems of power operating that inform her choices and epidermalize her body as a problem.

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