Film Reviews

MOONLIGHT

By • Oct 29th, 2016 •

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Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT was originally presented as a short play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Transferring the play to a screen, writer-director Jenkins’ does something extraordinary – he brings into focus the life of one African-American male without blaming cultural prejudices, lack of education, lack of opportunity or bias against gay men. There is no blame in Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT. It presents a look at one man’s life and there are no excuses.

There is no message that black lives matter. MOONLIGHT is simply an honest and highly realistic exploration of one man’s hard journey from a neglectful childhood to adulthood and finding his own – highly personal – way in the world. The main character happens to be black and gay.

MOONLIGHT is set in three chapters. The first chapter takes place in the early 1980s in a Miami neighborhood, Liberty City, when much of the cocaine being shipped to the U.S. landed in Miami. Because there was so much cocaine available, profits dropped by 80 percent. Drug dealers converted the powder cocaine to “crack,” a solid smokeable form of cocaine, that could be sold in smaller quantities, to more people. It was cheap, simple to produce, ready to use, and highly profitable.

Of the six most dangerous neighborhoods in Miami today, Quora.com ranks Liberty City No. 1. Of course, other rankings put Mangonia Park and Opas-locka at the top.

Nine-year old Chiron (Alex Hibbert), who everyone calls “Little”, is bullied at school. The kids taunt “Little” about his timid, quiet personality and his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), a known crack addict.

Paula is a demanding, cruel mother. She is more interested in crack than her son.

Today, it is “flakka” — a synthetic crystal imported from China – that is wreaking havoc in South Florida and across the country. 

Running away from the bullies, “Little” is found hiding in a crack house by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug-dealer with a small crew of street dealers. One of his regulars is “Little’s” mother.

“Little” refuses to talk, so Juan buys him dinner and then takes him to the home he shares with his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae). Soon “Little” is coming to the house and spending time with Juan and Teresa. They represent a stable, loving family to him. “Little” begins to change under the guidance of Juan.

The second chapter shifts ten years to “Little” now called Chiron (Ashton Sanders) in high school. The only friend he secretly loved in childhood is now a well-liked teenager eager to be part of the “in crowd”. Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is more savvy then Chiron and one night on the beach, he initiates him into his first sexual experience. For Chiron, the experience with Kevin is revelatory but the next day the school bully demands Kevin beat up Chiron. Kevin easily brutalizes Chiron and the shame and anger changes Chiron.

Chiron still sees Teresa but Juan has died. Paula is still a bitch, demanding he give her the money she knows Teresa has given him.

It is the third chapter that shows what has become of Chiron. In his third incarnation – perhaps ten years has passed – Chiron is now called “Black” (Trevante Rhodes). He has been transformed from a frightened child to a bullied teen to a steroid-fueled, ex-con with his own drug crew. At first it appears that Chiron has gone the path destined for a black man from Liberty City.

 Then a phone call from his first “gay love”, Kevin (Andre Holland), who is working as a cook in a diner, brings Chiron to finally acknowledge what he has hidden – now an overworked cliché – his “authentic self”.

The three actors that portray Chiron are wonderful, especially the young boy. Hibbert had the toughest part. His face expressed such unrelenting sorrow and unhappiness. Naomie Harris is fearless. Her character Paula has no redeeming qualities yet Harris does not soften Paula in any way. She shows what being addicted to crack looks like and it’s not pretty.

 MOONLIGHT does not linger on the plight of a black man. It is the story of one life facing not only the struggle of an abandoned childhood and lonely teenage years, but suppressing his emotional life and finally coming to terms with it.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. 

 

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