Among a plethora of superhero movies and sequels, it seems inconceivable that a film such as Moonlight even exists. Barry Jenkins has directed a movie featuring a masterclass in humanity and emotion that is truly game-changing.
Moonlight has a simple premise: three acts solely focusing solely on one person – Chiron. The first act with Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, running away against a backdrop that belittles him for his identity long before he himself can discover it himself, staying silent when asked who he is. Finding a fatherly figure Juan played by Mahershala Ali, telling Chiron “you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be”. The Second act, played by Ashton Sanders, focuses on the struggle for acceptance amongst Chiron’s bullies but also the internalised self-hatred he harbours against himself, the creeping demons of loss of solace and sanctuary that he once had, that finally became too much. The third and final act of a repressed Chiron and masking his source of belittlement, but subsequently the peeling away of the cold exterior as soon as hope presents itself once again. The narrative and vulnerability Trevante Thodes orchestrates is near perfection as Chiron, now fully grown and withdrawn, words masking his true feelings and intentions but his actions alluding to his true self through his silence and hesitancy, revealing his true self. In all three acts, you see the same transcendent repressed soul, asked by others and himself “Who is you, Chiron?”
As you probably know, Moonlight is about a gay black man. For some reason, many people feel that this means these attributes, upon watching the film, they'll be unable to relate at best, or disgusted at worst, and well, with the historical lack of diversity in Hollywood, who could blame them?
We are on the fringes of making films that no longer consistently rebuff LGBT and minority narratives except, of course, portraying these groups with outdated stereotypes and tropes as the butt-end (literally) of jokes. Other examples of downright erasing these groups completely include the shameful 2004 release of Troy that rips its script from Homer's Iliad but hushes the true relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, instead totally bro-ing it all out, as sidelining an audience that never has been, is far harder than one that is used to being snubbed, even if it means to be anything but factually correct to the source material.
The 2015 “adaptation” of Stonewall with the casting a white Abercrombie and Fitch camera friendly model and depicting him to chuck the first brick that starts the Stonewall riots, and untimely the gay rights civil movement, rather than black and trans, Marsha Johnson nothing more than black erasure that ought to be lawfully criminal and is as slanderous as Emma Watson playing Rosa Parks, refusing to sit at the back of the bus. Speaking of Emma Watson, the fact that Disney applauds itself on its first ever gay character in the year 2017 in Beauty and the Beast, of which, it is a rotund comic relief oaf, lusting after a masculine straight guy, is laudable and the less said about homophobes boycotting a movie with a woman-beast love arc, the better.
Moonlight doesn’t succeed at winning best picture because it’s a “gay movie” or because its cast is predominately black; the assumption of its Academy Award for best picture is nothing more than a pantomime gesture of white-guilt grovelling, is a disgusting lack of credit. The movie never explicitly focuses on Chiron’s race nor his sexuality. It’s about his identity, whether he himself will be allowed to be seen. The nuances and vulnerability in all three acts round off what Moonlight sets out to achieve. A reluctance that one can't relate to a character that is black and gay is baffling.
Moonlight has a narrative that is unequivocally universal – about how we all crave acceptance, intimacy and love. We fear how we are perceived and how our feelings make us vulnerable to others, but more importantly what makes us human. Moonlight is more than a story that hasn’t been told, it captures a life.
With every watch of Moonlight comes new details you never quite caught the first time around: the cinematography, sound design, foreshadowing, symbolism, colour, the intricacy is mind-blowing. It truly is film in its finest form. With tone and grace to near perfection. You owe it to yourself to see a ballad of cinema that is lyrical, gracious and pure. Because if, after this reading this, you will still snub Moonlight but want to watch another rehashed story about doomsdays, space or superheroes, you really must be in La La Land.
EXTRAS: There's an Audio Commentary with writer-director Barry Jenkins; the featurette Cruel Beauty (5:39), which looks at the importance of shooting the film in Miami; the featurette Ensemble of Emotion (21:37), which takes a look behind the scenes at the making of Moonlight; the featurette Poetry Through Collaboration (10:06), a look at the film's score; and the Trailer (1:52).