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Tuesday 18 April 2017

Moonlight, Film 2016, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, 9* out of 10

Moonlight is a sensitive and intelligent look at growing up as a gay boy wanting to develop and live his identity in a rough black neighbourhood in the United States, a moving story compellingly told. Sometimes violent, at other times romantic, Moonlight has the feel of authenticity about it.  It deserves its Academy Award for Best Movie of 2016.

Chiron grows up in the roughest black neighbourhood of Miami. We meet him first as a young boy with the nickname Little, his mother dependent on welfare and drugs, he aware of being somehow an outsider. The other boys are of course aware of that too and begin to turn on him. Little Chiron survives in his peer-group by inner strength and running away when necessary.  And he has a stroke of luck when Juan (Mahershala Ali) the head of the street corner drug dealing gang in his neighbourhood and Paula (Naomi Harris), his girlfriend take a shine to the shy boy and become his mentors. They offer a welcoming place of refuge to the small boy as he learns to stand up for himself and his otherness. His newly-found mentors are more accepting than his mother. Kevin must cope with her bouts of drug-induced incapacity and her feelings of jealousy towards Paula and Juan, the man who organises her drugs supply. Why should Juan of all people arrogate to himself the education of her son, her only? We meet Chiron as different stages of his development: as a small boy (Alex Hibbert), as a teenager (Ashton Saunders) at high school and as a young man nickname Black (Trevante Rhodes) whose professional identity is very much at odds with his sensibilities and his aspirations for finding love.

Moonlight is a sensitive and intelligent look at growing up as a gay boy wanting to develop and live his identity in a rough black neighbourhood in the United States, while knowing how dangerous it is to disclose it in this environment, that violently rejects homosexuality in boys and men and feels threatened by it. 

Chiron navigates this hostile social environment in a very personal way with intelligence and panache, but there are no easy answers and sometimes no good choices available between how he feels he wants to act and how he feels he must act. He cannot avoid having to endure bullying, physical and emotional pain, but he always refuses to accept the role of the victim in his own personal attempt at “the pursuit of happiness”.   

Writer and Director Barry Jenkins achieves to imbue many of the characters with a humanity that feels real, both in their characters’ weaknesses and their strengths. This humanity manages to transcend the boundary of race and sexual preference to a realistic and ultimately uplifting story with universal appeal. Moonlight can be read topically as the story of Chiron’s attempt at integration into a community without giving up an essential part of his identity. The fact that it’s a community based on deprivation, violence and drug-consumption only makes Chiron’s journey more poignant.

The juxtaposition of the beautiful classical style film music with life in a rough black area of town works brilliantly. The use of the camera close-up to the characters, for example out of the water when they swim in the sea gives scenes an almost improvised documentary like feel.
Moonlight is a good story compellingly told. This high-quality low budget-film speaks to all of us and richly deserves its Academy Awards. Beside writing, direction and music this is due to a strong ensemble performance with particularly noteworthy performances by Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes. The 2016 Academy Award for Best Movie has an unusually deserving winner.

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