Alex R. Hibbert, Naomi Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monaé, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Trevante Rhodes
The small and gritty Moonlight is a film that every LGBT and ally should see. Because it’s an eye-opener. This movie utilizes three periods in a life to tell the story of a poor, young, black man trying to negotiate his sexuality in the drug-infested streets of Miami. Because of this, Moonlight is that gorgeous type of film that shows us the universal struggles by being very specific to its characters, their lives, and their personal battles.
Everything is suffused with a painful sense of realism.
It’s astounding when Oscar notices tiny indie films like Moonlight – filled with minority struggle in harsh worlds. Moonlight is up for seven awards, for its glorious acting, writing, filming, and directing.
When we first meet Chiron (Hibbert) he is a young boy facing schoolyard bullies. He has to hide in abandoned buildings to escape.
Chiron will get no comfort from his crack-addicted mom (as shockingly performed by Harris). She tries to toughen him up, to get him to fight back. Sometimes, she attempts to force her son into acknowledging who he is. Other times she’s shaming him, trying to pressure some magical transformation into a heterosexual man.
The only people who comfort and accept Chiron are his mom’s drug dealer (Ali) and the dealer’s girlfriend (singer Monaé, in her second great performance this year, after Hidden Figures.) They’re not the best role models, and Moonlight is too smart a film to slip into cliché about them having hearts of gold.
Later, we see Chiron as a scared teenager (Sanders). His only comfort is his boy-crush, a possibly bi-curious young looker (Jerome). But we all know sweetness is fleeting, especially to people like Chiron.
Finally, Chiron emerges as a completely transformed adult (Rhodes); the vision is shocking. As a result, it’s only now we understand why and how things end up the way they do.
I don’t want to mislead; Moonlight isn’t just a film about being gay. It isn’t just about being poor or black, nor is it about being raised around casual, devastating drug abuse. It’s about the whole world, what it is, and where it leads. Sure, there’s brutality, but there’s also tenderness – cooking a meal for someone, teaching someone to swim, letting someone nurse a crush. Because Chiron’s life can be so cruel, these moments of humanity can move us to tears.
Writer/director Barry Jenkins asks us to consider what someone learns in this situation, and how.
“At some point, you got to decide for yourself who you’re going to be – can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Ali tells the young Chiron.
But that must be nearly impossible. Everyone and everything – your family, your community, your culture – presses down upon you, trying to suppress you, squash you, shape you, make you surrender.
To an extent, almost every LGBT person can understand this painful fight – within ourselves and with others. However, it often takes a film like Moonlight to show all of us how bad – and how beautiful – the struggle can be, even in the worst corners of our country.