Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
Directed by: Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”)
Written by: Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”)
Hollywood is only less than a year removed from the industry’s controversial #OscarsSoWhite debate. Now that we’re actually in Oscar season again, it’ll be interesting to see if this year’s buzz-worthy bait will include anything that could constitute a “black film” and how those projects will go over with audiences and critics alike.
The race to the top starts with “Moonlight” (“The Birth of a Nation” was a pretender), a beautifully-made drama that spans the life of one character from childhood to adulthood in a moving and heartbreaking way.
Following the life Chiron (played by three different actors in three chapters: Alex Hibbert as a kid, Ashton Sanders as a teenager and Trevante Rhodes as an adult), a gay African American, the film’s main messages of sexual identity, self-discovery and loneliness start strong and never let up as we watch the character battle himself and others over who he is and what he wants to make of his life.
The film starts with Chiron, nicknamed “Little,” as a quiet kid getting picked on by other boys in his neighborhood because of his small stature and pure nature. Little’s drug-addicted mother Paula (a wonderful Naomie Harris), is an emotional wreck and irresponsible for her child. When good-hearted local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Teresa (Janelle Monáe) step in to play parental roles in Little’s life, the boy find some stability although not much.
As we watch Little grow into a teenager and face more harsh treatment from his mother and peers, his strength begins to show when he realizes he is attracted to one of his male friends at school. The recognition during these scenes in the film are genuine, which makes them all the more damaging when Chiron’s becomes devastated by an incident that puts him on a path he never thought he would take.
Adapted from Tarell McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” the direction and script of “Moonlight” by Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”) is an illuminating way to tell a story. Like 2014’s “Boyhood,” “Moonlight” gives audiences an opportunity to see this drama unfold on a broad scope and become invested in the main character and the issues he is experiencing. In “Moonlight,” however, the stake are at another level, which builds tension throughout the film in some surreal ways.
All three actors who portray Chiron bring a unique innocence to the character that is palpable. With Jenkins leading them all through this lyrical narrative, and some incredible cinematography by James Laxton (“Camp X-Ray”), “Moonlight” breaks away from most coming-of-age molds and makes itself distinctly compassionate and boundless—just like Chiron.