Eleanor Igwe ’17
“Moonlight” has been getting buzz since the summer as the art-house film that everyone, and particularly anyone interested in supporting black filmmaking or films about LGBTQ people, should see. A speculated Oscar-nominee, the film takes on the subject of sexuality as it follows Chiron, the main character, at three different stages in his life. The deeply moving film is directed and written by Barry Jenkins and adapted from a stage play entitled “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play while still in drama school.
McCraney, who himself is black, gay and grew up in an impoverished area of Miami, said that the project came out of a reflection on his own search for identity as he was growing up in Liberty City. Jenkins, who happened to grow up in the same area of Miami and went to the same elementary and middle school as McCraney (though they never met), felt a connection with the film as he searched for another project to follow up his 2008 success “Medicine for Melancholy.”
After “Medicine for Melancholy” was released to positive critical reception, Jenkins took a break from feature films and spent time writing, working as a carpenter and working on commercials. Eventually, Jenkins found “Moonlight” through the Miami Borscht arts collective. A24 and Plan B Entertainment started work on production.
The story is told in three parts, each labeled after the name that Chiron goes by at each point in his life: Little, Chiron, and Black. When he’s 9-years-old, Chiron’s mother (played by Naomie Harris) starts using crack to relax and Chiron finds the parental affection he’s missing, ironically, in the arms of his mother’s drug dealer Juan (nicknamed Blue and played by Mahershala Ali) and Juan’s girlfriend (played by the fabulous Janelle Monáe). This is also the age when a quiet Chiron meets his chatty life-long friend Kevin.
By the second part of the film, his mother’s crack addiction has worsened and Chiron has developed into a shy, gangly 16-year-old. On the other hand, Kevin has grown into something of a ladies man, but the two are still close. One evening, in the moonlight on the beach, they have a romantic encounter. Popularity games at school interfere with their relationship and Kevin is cornered into punching out Chiron. The situation is “resolved” by Chiron being kicked out of school.
The third part of the film opens with Chiron in his early 30s, now living in Atlanta as a drug dealer with a tough persona. He decides to pay a visit to his dear friend Kevin, having gone years without seeing him. The two talk, with Chiron alluding to how he feels about Kevin. The movie ends with a shot of Kevin embracing Chiron.
Not only does “Moonlight” tell an exquisite story, but the film is beautiful, with slow motion, vivid magenta and deep blue recurring in the dream sequences and during intense emotional moments. The cinematic approach is enthralling even to viewers without a specific desire to see something “experimental.” Credit for this approach goes to cinematographer James Laxton, who is a close friend of Jenkins and also worked with him on “Medicine for Melancholy.”
Comparatively shorter than some other heralded LGBTQ coming-of-age stories, “Moonlight” is about two hours long. While it comes into contact with the themes of socioeconomics, abuse and drugs, “Moonlight” treats these topics somewhat sparsely; the ideas of “homophobia in the black community” and “environmental factors turn a quiet kid into a drug dealer” are, by now, clichés to largely white audiences. “Moonlight” is very specifically a film about how we come to desire the kind of intimacy that we do and the way it plays into the development of our identities.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has hailed the movie as one of the “best [takes] on black masculinity … ever.” While I can’t add a statement of endorsement regarding the accuracy of this film (as I don’t personally share many of the identities spotlighted), I can truly say that it’s impossible not to empathize with nearly all the characters. I found this film evocative and exquisite, and a worthwhile film for anybody looking for a deep emotional experience.