Directed by Barry Jenkins
Released October 21, 2016
We live in changing times, when societal norms are being transformed and so much of what was standard even just a few years ago is no longer seen as definitive. While progress has been made in many circles, there is still much to be done, and even though things have changed for some, distinct communities and culture are not as willing to adapt. That applies more than anything to sexual orientation and gender identity, for which deviation from heteronormativity can be extremely alienating. Barry Jenkins’ powerful new film explores that phenomenon for one lonely male throughout the course of his life.
At age ten, Chiron, better known as Little (Alex Hibbert), is a wide-eyed boy who knows that he is different from those around him in some way and expresses it most by saying little. His drug-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is hardly a fitting role model, and he instead spends plenty of time with Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monae), who provide more stable preparation for the future and fully accept Little as he is. At age sixteen, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is tall, lanky, and the butt of all of his classmates’ jokes. Nearly two decades later, a hardened Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) looks totally different, and details on his transformation should be discovered when viewing the film.
There is a mesmerizing solitary feeling that runs through “Moonlight” in all of its time periods, tracking Chiron as a character who is never truly able to connect with those around him and find the place where he can fit in. thanks to Juan’s mentorship, Chiron is able to avoid, or at least prolong, a fate that befalls many of those in his community, staying off drugs and keeping himself out of serious trouble, instead opting not to defend himself from those who insult and taunt him. He’s a magnetic lead character whose story as portrayed in this film is truly engaging.
The three actors who portray Chiron were carefully selected and all have minimal acting credits, but they work together – separately – to create a tremendous illustration of a person fated to certain circumstances who diverges from the expected path without much of a loud voice. Harris, Ali, and Monae provide strong adult support, and André Holland is particularly excellent as a colleague of the adult Chiron. This poignant, stirring film is purposefully arranged and beautifully shot to create a captivating experience that’s more than likely to earn deserved attention come Oscar time.