Movie Review: 'Moonlight'
Opened: 17 February 2017 (UK)
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
Director: Barry Jenkins
Producers: Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner
Do you remember that little kid at school, the one who always got bullied, called names, pushed around and maybe even beaten? Was his single mother addicted to drugs and neglect him in favour of getting high? Director Barry Jenkins’ break out hit movie and award nomination accumulator focuses on a kid in just these circumstances. His name is Chiron, he’s black, growing up in Miami a few decades ago and hiding a big secret from the world. The odds are stacked against him, to say the least. We see him at three key events in his life; as a young boy (nicknamed Little), as a teenager and as a hardened young man (now going by the moniker Black).
The beauty of Chiron is that he is everybody and he is nobody. Everyone will be able to identify with some aspect of who he is but very few, if any, will have endured the same adversity. If you have, please talk to someone: seriously, you need and deserve support!
For the very casual cinema goer Moonlight might be laborious in parts. It’s about a boy growing up in tough circumstances and getting to know who he is. That takes time and has some quieter moments. Structurally it is three expertly made short films that when joined in sequence tell a single story. It could be easily condensed down into a single short but it would not have nearly the same impact. The time spent with Little and then Chiron as a teen gives the third act its punch - the grown-up Black is defined by his past as Little and as an awkward victimised teenager. The all black cast is brimming with previously unrealised talent and the meaningful focus on African Americans is in equal parts refreshing and broadening. Storytelling is layered with character development and messaging that is clear to see and richly rewarding. All the acting is exceptional, and I do mean all of it, not a single complaint, no really! Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali are both fabulous and deserving award nominees. It is however Trevante Rhodes as Black who makes the movie unforgettable. Tough, disillusioned but still possessing the glimmer of hope and tenderness we recognise from before, Rhodes paints a beautiful picture of a man scarred by his formative years, looking for redemption and with it, love.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” - Viola Davis, accepting her award for Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder in 2015. These were the words that cut through to the heart of the awards whitewashing accusations being made at the time, and they were not in vain. Creed, Empire, Dear White People, Netflix’ Luke Cage and Moonlight are all evidence that Hollywood and the wider industry have woken up to the exciting possibilities of Black characters’ stories. I’m excited to see what comes next.