Moonlight shines a spotlight on the life of a young African-American boy named Chiron and his tempestuous journey to adulthood. This independent film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, who based it on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.
Ever since it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, and soon after was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, this movie has received overwhelming praise and glowing reviews. Its sensitive and provocative subject matter encourages important discussions on the topics of sexual identification and race. It is an unfortunate fact that the experiences of gay, African-American men remain untold or are relegated to a punchline in movies or on television. This potent movie is a rare exception.
The movie is broken into three parts with a different actor representing the main character in different stages in his life. Alex Hibbert plays Chiron as a child – a boy constantly bullied and belittled by his classmates. In fact, his nickname is “Little,” and this is also the title of the first act. Little is small in stature and despised for his seemingly effeminate qualities. Unfortunately, life at home does not offer safe harbor from the torments at school. His father is absent and his mother, Paula, played by Naomie Harris, is an abusive junkie. They live in a poor neighborhood and Little has no friends, other than a boy named Kevin (actor Jaden Piner). Little’s growing realization that he is gay leaves him confused, ashamed and feeling alone. By chance, a neighborhood drug dealer named Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, befriends him, becoming almost a father figure. Little also gets close to Juan’s sympathetic girlfriend, Teresa, played by Janelle Monáe.
As a teenager, Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders, is still bullied and confused by his sexuality. The movie goes deeper into his struggle for love and acceptance, but his mother’s continued abuse and betrayals by people he trusts make his life hell.
It is no surprise that as an adult, “Black” as he is called in the third act, has a seemingly impenetrable exterior. Actor Trevante Rhodes takes over the role as a man hardened by life, but still deeply lonely. Moonlight is a marvel that will astonish you with its beauty, while breaking your heart.