Moonlight is Barry Jenkins film based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s book In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McCraney co wrote the film with Barry Jenkins. It follows the life of a young gay African American man, Chiron, through three stages of his life, as a child, a teenager, and an adult.
Moonlight deals with his struggles for identity and a place in the world, even going by different names throughout his life; Little, Chiron, and Black. Chiron has to deal with being bullied by many of his peers, his emotionally abusive and crack addicted mother, as well as his sexuality and feeling like it won’t accepted. It’s a beautiful story that manages to be about a very specific person’s life, the gay African American community, whilst still representing some very universal themes that many people who have ever felt isolated will be able to relate to, and in turn giving us an insight into this community.
Because the film follows him through very different stages in his life, three different actors play Chiron throughout the film. Alex Hibbert plays the quiet and shy younger Chiron, whilst Trevante Rhodes brings the very different adult version to life. The most impressive of the three for me was Ashton Sanders, who manages to bring these two very different performances together and make you understand how the character has made that journey. Rhodes’ adult performance also has a lot of nuance to it, meaning what could become a very stereotypic role is so layered, and incredibly powerful.
Two of the biggest supporting roles come from Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother Paula. Its something so different from anything we’ve seen her do before, and in the third act of the film becomes such a heartbreaking role. Mahershala Ali meanwhile plays Juan during the first act of the film. He’s a crack dealer who takes the young Chiron under his wing after finding him hiding from bullies. Both of these roles are often portrayed in a very 2 dimensional light, to the point that Harris had serious worries about portraying a crack addict. But thanks to both the writing, and the Oscar nominated performances from Harris and Ali, they are made into full characters, and that’s something that the film does so well.
Jenkins does a great job with the writing of the film, but even more impressive is his work behind the camera as the director. Along with the cinematographer James Laxton he created one of the most beautifully shot and directed films. The colours that they use in the film are so beautiful, and are deceptively different to the hard life that Chiron lives in. It’s stunning direction from a second time director, and his first film in 8 years.
Moonlight is a genuinely brilliant piece of filmmaking. It succeeds pretty much across the board. From Jenkins’ script and direction, to all the wonderful performances, to the beautiful composition and look of the film. Moonlight is such an important and brilliant film, and probably in terms of sheer quality the best that has come out from this award season.