Opinion | Bona Fide | “Moonlight”

A review of “Moonlight”


Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” was released in 2016.

WARNING: “Moonlight” is rated R by the MPAA for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence and language throughout.

Isolated at home and at school, Chiron, the main character of Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” (2016), is a compelling character whose confusion and introverted nature lend insight into the life of a lonely, poor, gay black individual.

“Moonlight” is a must-see because of its unique ability to showcase a young man’s difficult life channel such powerful performances through a deeply-realistic script and style of filmmaking.

The film unfolds the story of Chiron, a homosexual African-American in three time periods: boyhood, mid-teens and young adulthood. Chiron deals with growing up in the slums, a neglectful drug-addicted mother all while confused about his sexuality. These alienating factors pushing him into a life of introversion.

Winning Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards, “Moonlight” was the underdog. The highly-regarded and wonderfully-nostalgic “La La Land” was projected to take home the award and was actually announced as the winner. (That is until the announcers realized their mistake after the “La La Land” cast was on the stage and “Moonlight” rightfully took home the golden man.)

Not only was it the underdog, but it was the first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer film and completely black cast to win the Best Picture. It was a milestone for the Academy and film.

The first time I viewed “Moonlight,” I was stunned. Shell-shocked as to the beautiful craft, never before had I seen a film with such power and such little dialogue speak so loudly.

All around, “Moonlight” is near perfection.

Every single performance is breath-taking. Chiron’s mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is one for the books as her downward spiral of drug addiction and mental abandonment while raising Chiron is heart crushing.

The standout performance, though, is the scene-stealing Juan (Mahershala Ali). Although he has less than 20 minutes of screen time, Ali garnered an Oscar for his performance as the drug-dealer who is also Chiron’s only role model.

Juan: [to Little Chiron] Let me tell you something, man. There are black people everywhere. You remember that, okay? No place you can go in the world ain’t got no black people, we was the first on this planet.

[Slight pause]

Juan: I’ve been here a long time. I’m from Cuba. Lotta black folks in Cuba. You wouldn’t know that from being here, though. I was a wild little shorty, man. Just like you. Running around with no shoes on, when the moon was out. This one time, I ran by this old… this old lady. I was runnin’ and hollerin’, and cuttin’ a fool, boy. This old lady, she stopped me. She said…

[He pauses]

Juan: [Imitating an old lady’s voice] “Runnin’ around, catching up all that light. In moonlight, black boys look blue. You blue, that’s what I’m gon’ call you. ‘Blue’.”

Little: So your name ‘Blue’?

Juan: [Chuckles] Nah.

[Another pause]

Juan: [to Little] At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.

The final confrontation between Juan and Chiron will leave even the hardest man in tears.

The score, an interesting take by Nicholas Britell, implements the use of the chopped and screwed technique through chamber music creating a whole new sound out of classical standards as if Mozart created a symphony for the sound of today. Chopped and screwed musical editing was made popular by DJ Screw who would slow down and remix tracks in the first generation of hip-hop.

Essence of the film is captured through the emotion-drilled cinematography by James Laxton. Bold blues, purples, browns and blacks and varying skin tones drive the force behind the imagery while long character shots capture powerful emotion through the iridescent lighting and a darkened color palette.

Although the visual, auditory and personal aspects of “Moonlight” are the best they could’ve been, “Moonlight” could not have been as big of an impact without Jenkins.

Jenkins, who’s mother also had a drug-addiction while he was growing up, understands the characters’ depth more than anyone involved. He had a vision for “Moonlight,” a true passion that is evident through the masterful storytelling and carefully-handled subject matter.

A film that will stand the test of time through its previously uncovered subject matter and forever resonate with me as something special, “Moonlight” is a modern-day masterpiece and cannot be missed.

Check out “Moonlight” on Decider to find the perfect streaming service.