Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016)

There are very few films that can truthfully be called perfect, indeed, some would argue that no such thing exists. Moonlight is one of the exceptions to this rule; visually it’s a sumptuous display, replete with a story that has finally shed much needed light on two underrepresented minorities; gay, black characters.

The film is divided into three chapters chronicling the childhood, adolescence and adulthood of Chiron, a black boy living in Miami who struggles with a drug addicted mother, bullying and his sexual identity. When Chiron encounters Juan (Mahershala Ali), a Cuban drug dealer and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) who allow Chiron to stay in their house, he is granted temporary freedom from his experiences. Later, it emerges that Juan is partly responsible for keeping Chiron’s mother addicted to crack, a situation that has robbed Chiron of much of his childhood.

As a teenager, it becomes clearer to Chiron’s classmates that he’s gay and the bullying intensifies. Spending his time avoiding the most menacing bully at his school and seeing Teresa when he can, Chiron’s adolescence is even lonelier than his childhood. Coupled with his troubled home life, the young man appears more and more desperate for a way out of his situation. A late night meeting with his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) on the beach changes Chiron’s life for better and for worse.

Moonlight is to be commended on all counts, but perhaps its strongest constituent is the acting of all three talents playing Chiron. Alex Hibbert (young Chiron), Ashton Sanders (teen Chiron) and Trevante Rhodes (Black/Adult Chiron) are all beyond impressive. It is an especially difficult feat to pull off the continual story of a character at different life stages so seamlessly. Naomie Harris is outstanding as Chiron’s mother, in particular watch for the incident where she deals with Juan when he discovers her smoking crack with one of his clients. The rage and heartbreak in Harris’ eyes is the work of a truly gifted performer. Mahershala Ali also shines as Juan, a man who seems to be searching for redemption through supporting Chiron in a performance that was more than deserving of his Oscar win.

Audiences have moved on somewhat from ignorant and negative racial portrayals of black and LGBT people, as was exemplified by the vastly differing age ranges of the audience who were present when I went to see the film, as well as the emotional reactions during the film. This is a comforting notion as we continue to wake up in a world where dangerous white men are still very much the ones in control in politics and finance. Stories that some of us are not so familiar with and need to know about are being highlighted. Moonlight is a rare thing. The film offers up an opportunity to embrace stories that have previously been ignored by focusing on one man’s life and the moments that changed it.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Michelle Audrey 2017

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