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Film Review: Moonlight

  • Barry Jenkins ‘Moonlight’ delivers an astonishing tale of a young African-American boy's journey into adulthood

The universally acclaimed, Oscar-winning Moonlight, by writer/director Barry Jenkins, is a touching three-part story following a boy who is tormented by his classmates, neglected by his crack addicted mother (Naomie Harris), and who is in love with his male best friend, ‘Kevin’ (André Holland). The film, adapted from Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, was filmed in Miami.

The film is endearing, and beautifully shot, the way it slowly moves around, the way it cleverly uses tracking shots whilst following our protagonist, nicknamed by his school yard tormentors as ‘Little’. By the second part, Little is now named by his birth-name ‘Chiron’ (Ashton Sanders), and is an alienated teenager, but after taking all he seems capable of taking via being bullied by the malicious ‘Terrel’, finally builds up the courage to take revenge.

Finally known as ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes) sees the once named Little as a muscle-bound, gold-grill wearing drug dealer, who relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, after being released from prison. He is no longer the scrawny, scared adolescent who got bullied in high-school, but a self-assured yet still extremely quiet man. Whilst in bed one night, he’s woken by a phonecall, and returns to Miami.

The film is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’, with its real-time style story, from childhood to adulthood style, and with its themes of fatherhood, and particularly lack thereof in this case. The only father-like figure for Chiron is ‘Juan’, (brilliantly played by Mahershala Ali), who protects him, feeds and houses him and teaches him how to swim. Juan even introduces a mother figure into Chiron’s life in ‘Theresa’, (played by Janelle Monáe) but Juan is ultimately a contentious and conflicted role-model, as he is a local drug-dealer.

A truly emotive scene which truly grips you is when Little asks Juan what a “faggot” means, as if his own mother has been name-calling him. Another is a scene whereby Chiron and Kevin engage in a sexual encounter at night on the beach, and one where all the bravado and pretend toughness is dropped for a moment of much-needed minute of love in a life time of pain for our protagonist.

In truly troubling times across America in the countless forms of police brutality against African-Americans, complete savagery against the LGBT community in the Orlando shootings, and the fearmongering in Donald Trump closing the borders to multiple majority Muslim countries shows that although the world thinks it’s at unprecedented levels of acceptance, it is still worryingly regressive. But Moonlight gives us hope, and is the first ever film to feature an all-black cast, and to have a Muslim actor to all win an Oscar. And this slow but steady delivery of an outstanding piece of important drama perfectly encapsulates the times and makes the viewer truly feel something, like all great pieces of art do.

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