Barry Jenkins’s Oscar winning picture, Moonlight, opens the door on a young black man’s private and potent struggle for identity, exploring what it means to be both black and gay in a marginalised Miami community, writes Natalie Stendall.
Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, it’s a formidable coming-of-age story told in three parts: childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
As the film opens, Little (Alex R. Hibbert) is pushed into the arms of his mother’s drug dealer, Juan (Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali). In any ordinary movie, this would mark the beginning of a descent, yet it presents Little with his only level-headed role model.
It’s original writing that topples stereotypes at every turn. Juan is warm and open, helping the confused and lonely Little to navigate his intensifying feelings of difference.
Bullying is a fact of life for Little, who becomes Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and eventually Black (Trevante Rhodes), re-building himself in Juan’s hard outer image.
It’s a form of protection that offers little solace. Black struggles to understand and express his true identity and, cut off from any real human connection, is unable to experience love.
The harmony between the three principal actors is staggering. All are fluent in the same self-conscious, inhibited speech and a piercing gaze that betrays buried vulnerability.
This is confident storytelling from writer-director Barry Jenkins who delivers much of the emotional content between the lines. He fuses the material with a poignant and unexpected orchestral score from Nicholas Britell whose dramatic strings drag us into the very heart of Chiron’s struggle.
James Laxton’s cinematography too is nothing short of beautiful, evoking transcendental moments in a palette of blue and purple and bathing act three in a warm, intimate light that offers a sense of hope.
Moonlight treats love as intrinsic to the human condition, accessible only when we are able to be ourselves and not who others believe we should be. Mainstream cinema has been missing films like this, that approach race and sexuality from an intimate, naturalistic viewpoint, for too long.
Moonlight is showing at Derby Quad until Thursday, March 9.