Moonlight doesn’t have any major star-power going for it, but the film could easily become one of those smaller, underdog indies that breaks through the field this Awards season– if enough people see it and word of mouth spreads. It’s a poignant drama adapted from a play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film chronicles a young black boy’s tumultuous and painful journey of self-discovery and sexual identity as he grows up in a rough Miami neighborhood. Three different actors portray the lead character Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes), and the transitions are impressively seamless.
Moonlight skillfully explores issues of race, sexuality, socio-economic status, and drugs without getting overly brutal or heavy-handed. I wasn’t quite as over-the-moon as some critics in terms of whether it should achieve Best Picture status, but I would suggest a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Mahershala Ali. He plays a sympathetic drug dealer named Juan who becomes a father figure to Chiron. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) watch out for the boy whenever his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) goes on one of her drug-induced benders, which is often.
Moonlight feels a bit reminiscent of the groundbreaking territory explored in Brokeback Mountain, with young urban African-Americans instead of young, white cowboys. It’s a powerful story, with superb acting. I watched the movie at the Middleburg Film Festival and the audience was moved to applause, which is quite impressive considering the slate of Oscar-bait films that Moonlight was sharing the spotlight with.