Moonlight is a film that everyone can find something to relate to. It is a story, which details the life of a young man growing up in a very tough neighborhood in Miami.
The film begins by focusing on Chiron (portrayed by Ashton Sanders, who does a terrific job in the title role), a waif of a young boy, being pursued and bullied by neighborhood toughs. Chiron is resourceful, and hides out in an abandoned public housing complex. Eventually, the bullies give up their pursuit of the youngster and wander off, shouting out their threats to eagerly pursue him the following day. Even at a young age, his sexuality is questioned by the larger boys in his poor neighborhood, and every day, Chiron must do his best to tiptoe around them.
Juan, an adult male Afro-Cuban neighborhood drug dealer (portrayed by Mahershala Ali, who does an excellent job in a very controversial role—drug dealer/enforcer, yet role model/father figure to Chiron—this actor is having a great year, also appearing in the hit film “Hidden Figures” as the love interest of Taraji P. Henson) has observed the pursuit of Chiron by the neighborhood toughs, and he takes an interest in Chiron’s well-being, guiding Chiron to safety out of the abandoned building after assuring him that the bullies have fled. Juan even does everything a father would do for a son in Chiron’s situation, providing food, shelter, companionship, mentoring, even money to the youth, who frequently has to fend for himself regarding his sustenance (I want to point out that while Juan is a drug dealer, he never involves Chiron in his business). What Juan cannot do is help Chiron with his relationship with his mother, Paula (portrayed by British actress Naomi Harris, who pops up in all kinds of roles in all kinds of films, she is also terrific). Like a lot of single mothers in the ghetto, Paula is a proud woman who works for a living, but she too is pulled in by the lure of drug abuse; watching her slide into the ugly abyss of self-loathing, drug addiction and verbal abuse of Chiron is very painful to watch, and the director of this film doesn’t spare his audience any of the downside. Juan’s live in girlfriend Paula (portrayed by singer Janelle Monàe, who does a good job in a big role here; Monáe also appears in the new hit film “Hidden Figures”) acts as a surrogate mother to Chiron, who often sleeps over at Juan’s place when Chiron’s mother is missing-in-action, caught up in her own drug-fueled dramas.
The film chronicles Chiron’s growing up in a neighborhood in which life is cheap and hangs in the balance daily. It also deals with Chiron’s struggle to come to grips with being gay, taunted daily, with absolutely no comfort provided by almost anyone within the community. This film rings true from beginning to end; well cast, with excellent direction of the film by Barry Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay. Moonlight is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in all of 2016, and I would urge everyone to see it. It has already received a Golden Globe for Best Drama of 2016, and I suspect other awards will come shortly when the Oscars are presented in the spring. You cannot help but be moved by this outstanding film.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay. Original story by Tarell Alvin McCraney. 1 hour and 51 minutes.