Going into my screening of Moonlight at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I had all the buzz of this film in my ears but I wasn’t prepared for how blindsided I would be from it. Coming in the year of the “Oscars So White” hashtag controversy, I had the feeling that black cinema would get a heavy focus but it ultimately fizzled with The Birth Of A Nation, a film so sophomoric and filled with the overwhelming ego of its writer, director and star Nate Parker that it ultimately drowned all of its award chances. Moonlight, on the other hand, is simply one of the best feature films I have seen this year, a winning effort from director Barry Jenkins and all those involved.
Moonlight is the powerful story of one boy living in the poor neighborhood of Miami. As a child, known then as Little, in the opening scene of the film we see him chased by bullies into a dilapidated crack house. He is found by the local drug supplier, Juan (played by the riveting Mahershala Ali in a performance that should get him recognized for a supporting actor statue). Juan takes this young man under his wing, trying to coax the quiet boy to talk. As the bond between the two strengthens, Juan learns that Little has a contemptuous relationship with his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) and, with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), hopes to be a place of calm safety for him. The film then continues through Little’s life as he grows into a teenager, now called Chiron, then as an adult, nicknamed Black.
For the entire duration of Moonlight, I stared at the screen with slack-jawed awe, as this was a true piece of bonafide cinema. The three actors that comprise Little, Chiron and Black’s story, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, are so charismatic in their silence that they glue your eyes to the screen. Barry Jenkins, in his first major motion picture, delivers on all levels, writing the film as well but it’s his pairing with cinematographer James Laxton that makes it all come together to a goosebump-inducing score by Nicholas Britell. The transition between ages and the soulful eyes of our main character through the ages will be one of the most memorable things I’ve seen in film this year. Standing ovations were made for movies like this.
While it’s a given that audiences will flock to the bigger films this week, like Doctor Strange and Hacksaw Ridge, it would be completely criminal for a film like Moonlight to go away unnoticed. Character pieces like this, and especially well done ones that hit you with a heavy spirit and soul, are very hard to come by, especially in the Hollywood system. I am saying it right now, if this film doesn’t get awards recognition during this upcoming season then the people in charge of the voting are blind to the progress of film, most notably in the black community. Even beyond that, this story is powerful no matter what your race or upbringing is. It is a truly human story in every way and the last scene will stick with you. This film is obviously a must see in my opinion. 5/5