Moonlight is a pretty big deal
Moonlight is nominated for eight Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Director, Best Original Music Score and Writing Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography and Film Editing. It has also already won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama as well as a slew of other awards in 2016.
Aside from being a searing depiction of a story which is relevant but mostly missing from mainstream cinema, it is visually and audibly stunning. The look and feel mirror the depth of emotion expressed through the main character’s personal story with deep saturation, high-contrast, and an almost blue tone. My impression of Moonlight is this: it couldn’t be farther from my story, but I am so glad it was made. As a liberally educated, heterosexual, middle-class, white girl I could not be more different on paper than the film’s protagonist, Chiron. But the world that Chiron (pronounced SHY-rone) inhabits is very much a part of the world I live in, and his story is one that I don’t often get to see depicted on the big screen.
not what you may expect
Moonlight is not about what you may think it is about. I am tempted to describe it as a black story, or a projects story, or a gay story but at the heart of it Moonlight is a story about humanity.
The film is organized into three chronological chapters titled after names Chiron is known by in the different stages of his life; i. Little, ii. Chiron, and iii. Black. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) who was inspired by the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell McCraney. The film takes place in a housing project in Miami-Dade County known as Liberty Square, the same place both Jenkins and McCraney grew up in the late eighties. Many of the details of Chiron’s life closely mirror the lives of both writers: both struggled to find their place within the community they were raised, both had mothers who were addicted to crack cocaine, McCraney is openly gay.
Chiron’s story is authentic because it is told by the men who lived it. It portrays themes like blackness, gayness, and poverty from inside those experiences because that is what is real to these men, but is really about the search for identity, acceptance, and love that is universally felt by everyone.
Hear Jenkins talk more about the experience that informed this film on NPR here.
Black boys look blue
The three actors who play Chiron have one thing in common – they don’t say much. The boy 'Little' is dubbed so because of his small stature and seemingly timid nature. It is hard for anyone to get him to say anything, but when he does speak his questions are poignant. Chiron the teenager wrestles with an internal reality that does not align with his circumstances and the forces which seek to influence him. He remains reserved. As a man Black appears transformed albeit stoic as ever which makes the few words he says at the end of the film brave and vulnerable as he reaches out for a genuine connection. As if Jenkins were creating a series of portraits the camera literally gets in the faces of these actors who communicate everything that needs to be said through their expressions.
This film is an important deep-dive into identity and love that everyone should experience. The circumstances that add up to Chiron's personal experience are timely and the emotions he wrestles with are universal.