‘Moonlight’ (2016) starts like numerous black films you’ve seen before. Black men loiter in the streets, they sell drugs, they make deals. But then a little boy runs by, interrupting the stereotypes.
Turning them on their heads as the word ‘f*ggot’ explodes from the mouth of babes – a course incantation summoning the magic that won Best Motion Picture at this year’s Golden Globes and stands ready to contend for eight Academy Awards.
Based on ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’, a semi-autobiographical and unproduced play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, ‘Moonlight’ ushers in something a different.
Set against the backdrop of an impoverished Miami neighbourhood, the film, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, bypasses the guns, the crack houses and the ceaseless violence the streets suggest to focus on the kind of stories we suppress.
In this case, the story of Chiron played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes.
First introduced as a little boy desperately evading a bunch of bullies who’ve already identified him as queer, Chiron is the subject of the film’s three chapters.
Each depicting pivotal moments and encounters in young Chiron’s life, the film stars three different actors who give light to a coming of age story like none you have ever seen before.
Delicate, daring and incredibly acted, ‘Moonlight’ tells the story of a young gay black man growing up and inward under the disparaging eye of his crackhead mother and Juan, a drug dealer who takes him under his wing.
Chiron’s mentor and father figure, Juan, played superbly by Mahershala Ali, is a helping hand in a world full of fists and like Chiron himself is majestic in the kind of black male complexity one still sees far too little of on screen.
Juxtaposing the hypermasculinity of the neighbourhood bullies, the sordid reality of Chiron’s addict mother with softer moments and interiors ushered in by Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) as well as the films transcendent and transformative beach scenes, Jenkins creates a film that is as beautiful as it is painful to watch.
Focused on moments rather than the traditional narrative arch, ‘Moonlight’ thrives on ellipsis as the film pieces together moments in a black, gay, poor, male life without entertaining cliché.
Presenting a film about gay people without the usual over-the-top or camp characters, Jenkins sheds some moonlight on the more ‘masculine’ gay, black man.
The ones on the down low, the ones who deny their sexuality for years and who see the past call them up as if it never left.
A quiet, open film without gimmicks or shock tactics, ‘Moonlight’ is luminous in its casting which gives life to the subtlety of the script in a story that begins with the heartbreaking and insightful reality of a child forced to seek the meaning of the word ‘f*ggot’ before enduring its repercussions and considering the non-derogatory term’s fit.
Experience this because it is unseen and the source material – ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ – so elegantly evokes the manner in which the film triumphs… casting black boys in a different light.