Identity and acceptance are two themes that course through this film, one which explores the life of a gay black man living in the rough area of Miami, exploring the black community and the many difficulties they face. Moonlight is an incredibly rich intellgent story and essential viewing owing to its exploration of many themes such as homosexuality and drug culture. The film is further bolstered by both the incredible number of positive responses and the many awards it has accumulated. Now, I won’t speculate on numbers regarding who has seen this film and who hasn’t, nor am I going to condemn you for having missed this experience in cinemas, but the film is out now on DVD, so you know, hint hint.
Despite some rather negative reviews, cough Camilla Long cough, that I strongly suspect are sadly fuelled more by a need to be noticed in a sea of critics rather than assuming it to be her actual perspective. Moonlight is simply superb. Now, granted each to their own, and I know this film won’t appeal to everyone owing to its darker themes of drug culture and homophobic violence. However, those critics who say this film is lacklustre or without purpose are either purposefully misleading readers or have somehow misunderstood the film, I wonder which is more likely. These criticisms exist simply to ‘troll’ readers who are perhaps unaware of these films, so when Camilla Long’s review was published in The Times she became the top trending topic on Twitter, and no doubt The Times enjoyed a rise in site traffic as people clambered to see just what exactly she had said about a beloved film, before subsequently shouting their angry tweets in her direction. As a marketing scheme to promote her work and by association Moonlight, it was a success, if a woefully unnecessary and frankly ignorant one, in fact, if you google Camilla Long ‘Moonlight’ is the first suggestion. We have quite enough ‘trolls’ on the internet of both the professional and non-professional variety, without needing to add to that particular poisonous well.
LGBT films and TV shows are unfortunately a rarity in mainstream cinemas, those that do succeed do so only domestically with the odd exception here and there, such as Moonlight. The Netflix series Sense8 is another example of an LGBT show that captured a strong following before it’s recent cancellation, with Orange is The New Black of course being one of the most widely succesful shows of all time. One of the most popular and successful depictions of a male LGBT character then is the sexually open character of Frank Underwood in House of Cards, though bisexual is a word that has yet to make its debut on mainstream TV or film.
Moonlight is an Oscar winning film and is a welcome and necessary breath of fresh air for many reasons. Rather than focusing on slavery, the film instead examines one man’s struggle to find his identity and be accepted not only by society as a gay black man, but also to find within himself an answer to the question “Who is you?”.
The film is rich with natural thought provoking natural imagery, an engaging narrative and powerful performances all round in this masterpiece, neatly delivered by the director and writer Barry Jenkins. The film is carefully divided into three chapters exploring the life of Chiron, who we first see as a child, then progressing into the harsh and violent environment of high school before finally seeing him as a grown man. Chiron is played by three different actors, but each perfectly embodies the character, from his mannerisms to his body language, so that there are no dates required nor any additional pieces of text on the screen as we instantly know who Chiron is in each change.
The writing is particularly pleasing to me as it is both intelligent and never once summarises nor overly explains any scene or situation in a non-realistic manner. Jenkins, like all good writers, makes you pay attention to his work. The script moves between subtlety, implication and with a healthy dose of some profound questions regarding sexuality and a drug culture so prevalent in many societies. One tender moment in particular between Chiron as a child (Alex R. Hibbert) and Juan (Mahershala Ali), where Chiron asks, “What’s a Faggot?” is particulary compelling. Throughout the film, we are rarely provided with clear explanations as to who these characters are to one another and certainly never the whole picture, instead, we gather knowledge from conversations and implications. The conversation feels authentic and natural and therefore believable, with the removal that all too familiar character, one who represents a dialogue with the audience by never being fully grasping a situation, thus needing a moment of explanation from another character. Speculation is key to Moonlight with many questions left purposefully open, allowing your own interpretation of these characters to formulate your own ideas and thus adding to the experience. Jenkins presents an intelligently filmed, complex and seemingly authentic depiction of his man’s life through the crucial stages of development.
The film should also be praised for its performance at the various award ceremonies. Not only did it win the best picture at this year’s Oscars, but Mahershala Ali became the first black Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Highly commendable achievements that were sadly overshadowed by an error when the wrong card was read for best picture. A mistake that some media outlets wasted no time in delightfully in, playing on repeat for days after and really missing the more crucial moments that perhaps would have gone some way in helping the current global political discourse.
The element that really astounded me, was the performance of Naomi Harris who is exceptionally striking in this role. Harris is perhaps best known for her role in the recent Bond films, though those keen eyed among you will also remember her in Pirates of the Caribbean. In Moonlight Harris plays Chiron’s mother, a drug addict whose condition declines as the film progresses. Harris’ performance is nothing short of spectacular, perfectly capturing her character’s vulnerability and anger, skillfully moving between loving mother in one moment to a junkie in the next.
OVERALL ***** A superb film, totally refreshing and a master stroke from Barry Jenkins in his first feature. Wonderful uses of the environment to create moments of rich imagery and detail. Powerful performances by all the cast, providing heartbreaking and uplifting moments.
RECOMMENDATION – Even if this film isn’t what you would normally gravitate towards, I would recommend at least one viewing. An easy film to watch it is not, but none the less a powerful depiction it certainly is. To film students, this is one to watch.