Almost two years since MOONLIGHT won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, we take some time to reflect on a modern cinematic masterpiece from Barry Jenkins.
MOONLIGHT is magnificent. Despite tackling challenging themes, it is a film with a glistening beauty in the corners of every frame. The over-saturated, rich texture of the cinematography defies the characteristics of a typical social realist film. This is not a typical film.
In Liberty City, Miami, the film presents three distinct stages in the life of the main character; his youth, adolescence, and early adult life. It explores the difficulties he faces with his sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he endures growing up.
In the three chapters of the story, the main character Chiron Harris is portrayed by three different actors – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes. Each new chapter brings a Chiron further shaped by the world he’s grown up in, as the audience drops in on pivotal moments of his life. Even with three nuanced portrayals, you never lose your emotional connection with the essence of Chiron’s character, as he responds to environment around him.
The performances are breathtaking, across the board. With only fifteen minutes of screen time, Mahershala Ali gave an authoritative and layered portrayal of a crack dealer burdened with guilt. Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor at the 89th annual Academy Awards for the role. Naomi Harris is also incredible as Chiron’s drug addicted mother, as the only actor to be in all three chapters. Naomi Harris was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.
The film is based on the semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, written in 2003 by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The theater piece was shelved for about a decade before it served as the basis for Moonlight.
Moonlight is ultimately a timeless coming-of-age film about ‘finding your way’, accessible to everyone through compassion and empathy.