Moonlight, Awarded Best Picture, 2017
A somewhat spoiler-free review
I have been hyped about Moonlight for over a year, but I didn’t get to watch it until this week after the Oscars snafu, in which La La Land was mistakenly announced as winning best picture and the crew got to thank their perspective people on the mic, even though Moonlight was the actual recipient. The entire, cringe-worthy situation dampened the moment and took away from the powerful message that the Academy (attempted to) confirm when they awarded the best picture of 2017 to a film about being poor, gay and black.
Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, isn’t just about being poor, gay and black in America. With breathtaking cinematography, complex characters and in-depth portrayal of black life in the hood, this deeply personal film told in three acts is the story of Chiron, played as a boy by Alex Hibbert, as an adolescent by Ashton Sanders and as a grown man by Trevante Rhodes. The issues touched on in this film–drug use, crime and mass incarceration, single parenthood, bullying–are all tied together with a thorough image of the very poignant, very real struggles of growing up a poor, gay, black man in the hyper-masculine African-American community.
Each character–from the 2017 Best Actor, award winning Mareshala Ali, who plays Juan, a father-figure to Chiron who sells drugs, to Chiron’s friend Kevin (who is played from adolescent to adulthood by Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and André Holland)–is flawed, vulnerable and, ultimately, beautiful. Chiron’s story is broken up in such a way as to allow the audience to experience certain significant moments and people woven throughout the film, giving Moonlight the scope and depth of a black man’s youth. While the typical black-film cliches are there–drugs, jail, ghetto life–everything from the superb acting to flawless score breaks these cliches in two, causing audiences to recognize the humanity in each of the characters, something that has always been there, but can sometimes be forgotten.
What’s most easy to forget by some, is that the black community is nuanced. Not every drug dealer is a bad person, not every crack head is on the street, not every person in jail is a criminal. There are variations and subtle distinctions within each of us that make the black community so rich, so complex and so important. Moonlight highlights the laborious task of youth, and yet reminds us that youth is fleeting, that time moves swiftly and that sooner rather than later, we all must grow into ourselves, learn to forgive and move on. There is hope in that message, a reminder that “it gets better”, a theme which left me breathless throughout and wanting more by the closing credits.
xoxo C. Diva