It’s written & directed by Barry Jenkins, starring Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders & Trevante Rhodes as main character Chiron, also with Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Jharrel Jerome & André Holland.
Moonlight follows Chiron, the son of a crack whore & a boy trying to find his way in life through three separate stages of his life; as a child, a teenager & an adult.
Chiron is an beautifully complex character, & each actor that plays him does so with such individuality that’s brought together seamlessly through Jenkin’s direction.
Alex Hibbert makes his film debut as nine year old “Little” Chiron. He is quiet & unsure & quietly scared all the time. He’s a little boy living a life no boy should live, yet he doesn’t seem helpless.
Ashton Sanders is teenage Chiron, & he perfectly balances the teenage angst with a major internal sadness. He’s conflicted about himself & those around him, & goes through a number of things that ultimately shape adult Chiron forever. Sanders is really something special, & in this difficult role is stunning.
Finally, older Chiron – “Black” is Travante Rhodes. And he is phenomenal. He is every bit the stereotype of who he has shaped himself to be on the outside: grills in his teeth, car to be envious of, huge beefy body. He’s worked to create this exterior to gain respect, & live his life free from control from anyone else but inside he is so so vulnerable – & Rhodes has this way of showing this that is incomprehensible to me months on from seeing the film.
Director Barry Jenkins said in an interview that these three actors who play Chiron never met during production – intentionally. He wanted each of them to create their own version of Chiron during the respective moments of his life, with no influence from the other two actors. The same technique was used with the actors who play Kevin.
Paula, Chiron’s mother. She’s always been troubled, but spirals fast in the film’s progression. Troubled by her addictions which make her cruel beyond words, she’s not an amazing mother yet you can understand Chiron’s unconditional love for her. Naomi Harris is utterly jaw dropping as her, the only actor to feature in all three segments & though she is vastly different in each, she provides an amazing sense of continuity & fluidity to the story as Chiron keeps returning to her.
Juan is Chiron’s mentor. They found each other by complete chance at the right time, & become an unlikely pair of friends. He, with his partner, becomes the role model Chiron needs. Mahershala Ali gives such a tenderness to this respected drug dealer, & beautiful understanding to the character. He is respected because he can fight if needed, but all he is ever seen as is kind & nurturing. Bearing in mind this story is told through Chiron’s perspective, & seeing him as the solace for a nine year old is wonderful.
Juan’s partner is Teresa, who’s played by Janelle Monáe. She is everything Paula is not: kind, gentle, sweet & loving. She gives it straight & cares for Chiron as her own whilst never letting him forget about his real mother. I am so impressed by Monáe’s performance – both so natural & so precise at the same time.
Kevin is Chiron’s lifelong friend. He’s the ever present but increasingly distant person in Chiron’s life, & shapes him through the tiniest things he’s probably unaware of (i.e. adult Chiron goes by the nickname fifteen year old Kevin presented him with despite the two not being in touch in years). All three actors play him with such each & self assurance – these being Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome & André Holland.
The story & writing is so beautifully effortless – it isn’t a thriller by any means but it does keep you in a tense state you weren’t aware you were in until the end when you relax. It’s split into three segments, of three segments of Chiron’s life; him at nine, fifteen & thirty, but carried with the same flow through all that it’s never unconvincing. Each segment is also so absorbing you completely forget that it’s only one third of the story, so when the next Chiron comes along it’s a little shocking but not in a bad way.
I don’t need to tell you the power of an all black,LGBT film being this huge. Representing race & homosexuality together is huge, in an industry where people who aren’t straight & white are often omitted.
It’s the first LGBT film, & the first film featuring an all black cast, to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Plus, Mahershala Ali being recognised for his role & being awarded Best Supporting Actor makes him the first ever Muslim actor to win an Oscar for acting. Seeing it being so publicly recognised on the level it has been is amazing.
Mind you, I work in a cinema & I can tell you numerous people straight up walked out mid way through (majority were older people). But it feels like progress is being made. Compared to mass problems people are experiencing worldwide, it is only a small victory, but a step nonetheless. A film made almost solely by black people winning Best Picture is huge, & about bloody time.
That one long, long shot of teenage Chiron walking into school (you’ll know which time when you see it) is BRILLIANT. Literally one of the best long sequence shots in history of film I think. It is so clear what’s happening, though without words, which is a true testament to both the actors & film crew. It’s definitely one of those film moments that will stick with for as long as I live.
Roughly eighty percent of the film was shot on location in Liberty City, Miami, where both director Barry Jenkins & writer Tarell Alvin McCraney grew up. It feels familiar, like a home in the way it’s presented & I think the two really achieved that homage to their childhood.
The score is so interesting, with modern blended with orchestral to create something really unique to Chiron’s story. There’s also little references, like the song Cucurrucucu Paloma being used as a personal homage to the 1997 Kar-Wai Wong film Happy Together (1997), which deals with the same subject matter.
Moonlight was one of those films where I was sucked completely away into a dreamlike state where nothing was real except the film in front of me. It makes you feel that quiet sort of contentment, with a little bit of sadness. Happysad.
It is beautiful. If you haven’t seen it, make yourself see it. And if you don’t like it, consider the possibility that it wasn’t made for you.
Moonlight is out on DVD in the U.K. today.