I hate to say what everyone is thinking but is not saying out loud, but before the Oscars had you ever even heard of the movie Moonlight? Though I haven’t seen the contender, La La Land, either at least that one I had heard of. My love of conspiracy theories and tales of things that just aren’t there make me think that something was truly amiss when it came to this award, but that is in the past.
Moonlight is a host to many firsts including the film being the first to have an all black cast and the first LGBT film to win the Best Picture Award at the Oscars, with the editor, Joi McMillon, to be the first black woman to be nominated for an editing Oscar and Mahershala Ali to become the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar. With all the firsts, the buzz and the Oscar embarrassment, Moonlight is popping up on everyones list of movies to see if they haven’t already.
The film is broken into three chapters or periods following the character of Chiron. In the first chapter “Little” Chiron’s nickname (Alex Hibbert) for his size and his quiet tendencies that make him easy prey to bullies. Though not visible to the audience, it is shared that many of the children tease Chiron of being gay with the fact reinforced by a comment made by his own mother (played by the talented Naomie Harris). With bullies chasing him during the day and the demons of his mothers drug habit haunting him during the nights, Little attaches to Juan (Mahershala Ali) a comforting and accepting male figure. Juan is no saint though despite taking to Little, helping him learn to swim and giving him a place to escape, Juan is a known drug dealer. Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (played by the beautiful Janelle Monae) helps to create a second home for Little that he will need for years to come.
The second chapter “Chiron”, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) grows out of his Little nickname though not much has changed in his life. Escaping the dark times of his childhood, he has no respite while entering the confusing and dangerous teens. With bullies even more aggressive and violent in his teen years, Chiron struggles to cope while also trying to understand his own feelings and emotions when he experiences his first sexual encounter, let alone his first with someone of the same sex.
The third and final chapter is “Black” with Chiron going by the name Black (Trevante Rhodes) now seen as an adult. Black has moved away from Liberty City, Miami to escape his past, but now finds himself in Atlanta as a drug dealer. Though his past has changed him, he is still very much the same boy he always was. When someone from his past calls him he doesn’t hesitate going back to where it all began and finding himself in the one place he tried so hard to escape.
There are many layers to the film bringing all three stages of Chiron’s life with the struggle of poverty, addiction, sexuality and just the general struggle of growing up while trying to find yourself. Though the entire cast was well chosen and played their roles well, I can’t help but focus on Chiron in all three stages. The actors who played each role were able to represent such a vast spread of years and life lived within those years while keeping many similarities amongst the three. The signature head and eyes down demeanour of Chiron follows through each chapter causing these little flickers of recognition for the audience that help to connect to Chiron and feel like you have followed him through his whole journey. I also can’t help but point out how extremely good looking Chiron becomes in chapter three played by Trevante Rhodes.
Though I am rarely a fan of films that receive so much critical acclaim, after watching Moonlight you can’t help but agree with the verdict. There are many films that I have seen that I have adored that have not won the Oscar for Best Picture and I can’t say I understand how they choose their winners for Oscars, but I can say that Moonlight deserves the praise that it has been receiving and if you haven’t given into the buzz it may be time to find out what you have been missing.