- 17 Feb 17
Breathtakingly emotional coming-of-age film examines sexuality, race, and identity.
There’s a problematic dearth of films about LGBTQ experiences; and even rarer are tales about LGBTQ characters of colour. That Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight offers a rich, emotionally intense and subtle portrayal of both queerness and blackness is thus deeply important. But even aside from representation, Moonlight is spectacular; a film exceptional in its depth, artistry and humanity.
Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film shows us three chapters in the life of young black man Chiron, who is portrayed by three different actors. Alex Hibbert plays Chiron as a wide-eyed and vulnerable grade-schooler enduring both bullies and the abusive outbursts of his drug-addicted mother (Naomi Harris, beautifully raw). Ashton Sanders, meanwhile, takes on the role of Chiron as a teen trying to survive the homophobic violence of his peers, as well as his first crush. Finally, Travente Rhodes plays our lead as a hulking yet haunted man, who has adopted the hardness that once terrorised him – but a late-night phone call may bring him back to who he once was, or could have been.
Chiron is defined by his silence, and all three actors are stunning in their portrayal of core-deep wounds and a need so fierce it can’t be spoken. It’s a need recognised by unlikely father figure and dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali, magnificent), who shows the 10-year-old child love and acceptance, and later by Kevin (Andre Holland, unforgivably snubbed for an Oscar nom), who still recognises the romantic boy beneath the self-preserving macho posturing.
Moonlight challenges stereotypes of black masculinity at every turn, offering tenderness when violence could be expected, and exploring the complex intersections of race, sexuality and class in America.
Meanwhile, Jenkins’ intimate close-ups, atmospheric lighting and sensual portrayal of sound and touch prove incredibly evocative, capturing the overwhelming force of both love and trauma. It’s a film about identity as a concept and experience, and will change you for the better.