The dream that keeps haunting Patrick Decile begins with him having just been arrested, riding in the back of a police car late at night. Up ahead, Decile notices the ground has split open, the Earth just crumbling away. They’re headed straight for a darkness that seems to have no bottom.
Just then, he looks up and notices the moon has turned into a spotlight. It’s shining down on him, bright and welcoming, and it seems like it might be showing a way to safety. Then he feels the car drop.
“I told my mom about it and she was freaking out. You have to understand, she’s Haitian, and dreams are big for Haitians,” he explains. “I know it has a meaning. What do you think it means?”
No doubt you’ll be able to figure it out when you hear Decile’s story. After navigating the toughest bullies in South Florida, he ended up playing one himself in the movie “Moonlight.” He was part of a cast that won the Oscar for Best Picture. And afterward, he landed back in Fort Lauderdale, at 20 years old, wondering: “Have I peaked too soon?”
How he got to this point actually started when he was 13. His family lived in rural Delaware. They had a yard and a dog, and Decile played in the woods with his cousins. His school had just one other black kid, but he still felt right at home. Then his stepfather was deported to Haiti, and it all collapsed.
They drove to Miami and moved in with Decile’s grandmother, who already had five people living in her small home. He and his mother slept on air mattresses, and Decile remembers his mother telling him, “This is going to be hard, but you need to be strong.” There were times without running water or electricity, for months. He remembers the rats and the roaches and, without electricity to pump the mattress, the cold tile of the floor he slept on.
At Carol City Middle School, with almost no white kids, Decile found himself absolutely unsure of who he should be. He says there was a hierarchy among the black kids, with immigrants at the bottom and American-born “yanks” like him at the top. Bullies picked on kids who were different, especially gays, and so Decile just tried to not get noticed. “Being black in an all-black school, it’s like you’re invisible,” he says.
He got into acting when a high school teacher pushed him into it. He continued with it after graduation, and in his first year at Florida Memorial University, during a drama class, the professor announced a couple “very important people” would be visiting. The students did a bit of acting for them, and they pulled Decile out for more interviews.
The VIPs were the casting crew working on “Moonlight,” and they gave him the role of Terrel, a homophobic bully. He played it with haunting foreboding. “I knew him,” he says. “Terrel is just kind of moments from a lot of people in my life.”
They paid him $3,000. “I honestly don’t know if it was a lot or a little,” he says. He found out later that he should have used that money to buy a Screen Actors Guild card, which would have allowed him to act in unionized productions, and which costs exactly $3,000. Instead, he bought a maroon 2007 Ford Focus. His mom bought him a crown that he taped to the dashboard. Not much later, the car was T-boned, totaled, and Decile threw the crown in the trash.
After all the attention “Moonlight” got last year, after the mess-up at the Oscars when the award almost went to the wrong movie, Decile found himself fielding lots of questions about future plans. He has since done a couple commercials, and he’s debating moving to Atlanta or Hollywood to look for more roles. His mom serves as his agent.
For now, he’s taking classes at Broward College and living at his mom’s place, west of Interstate 95, a few blocks from the new Walmart. On a Monday afternoon, he sat at a new lawn set under the carport as rain clouds rumbled to the west. He’s been thinking nonstop lately about how to get his next acting gig. He asked the casting director from “Moonlight” how much time he had before his fame fades. “You’ve got a little time,” he recalls her telling him, something that weighs on him endlessly.
Asked where he’ll be in five years, he puts his head back, dreadlocks hanging nearly to his waist, and he just can’t fathom it. Maybe he will break into acting. Maybe he’ll just be writing poetry. Maybe he’ll finish a degree in broadcasting.
He brings up the dream again, because he knows maybe he’s headed for that cliff, or, just maybe, the glow from “Moonlight” is pointing him to a better place.