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A movie which captures the childhood, teen years, and adulthood of a young gay, or questioning, Black male growing up in poverty and tormented for most of his life.
Review (with Spoilers)
Arguably, as the Black identity in media becomes more diverse, those of the LGBT spectrum are still lagging behind in terms of being more than either a sassy persona or someone who is a hardened stud. Moonlight doesn’t necessarily try to insert itself as an alternative, since its lead never identifies himself, yet it is that process of trying to understand what you like which is important. For while you can find that in a million and one stories featuring white characters, when it comes to Black characters, and perhaps even people of color, in general, they rarely get as much hype as Moonlight. Now, let’s talk about whether it lived up to said hype.
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
Little (Alex Hibbert)
Chiron, aka Little, kids his age believe is a “faggot.” We aren’t necessarily told or fully understand why, but it gets him bullied immensely. Luckily for him, he runs into a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes him under his wing. Heck, he even becomes a father figure to him. Something he becomes quite grateful for since, combined with Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), they make up for the horrible home life and school life Little has.
That is, outside of his best, and only, friend Kevin (Jaden Piner).
Chiron (Ashton Sanders)
The teen years for Chiron are the hardest. While chased as a kid, we never saw him jumped or see anything violent happen to him. However, even with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) still in his life, and perhaps the first person, outside of Teresa and Juan, to maybe support his sexual identity, in ways they can’t, now he has to deal with a bully. Said bully is Tarel (Patrick Decile) who makes Chiron’s life hell. To the point, he has no choice but to retaliate in such a way which will excite you but have serious consequences for the young man.
Black (Trevante Rhodes)
Now grown, Chiron has become unrecognizable. A life filled with torture, instability, and lacking the love any young man would need has turned him hard. Yet, there remains two constants in his life. A now adult Kevin (André Holland) and Paula.
Paula (Naomie Harris)
Chrion’s mother is a bit perplexing. We meet her when she is an LPN and the movie ends with her recovering from being a drug addict. Through all this, we understand why Little would latch onto someone like Juan and Teresa. Yet, what boy can fully abandon his mother? Even if she is but a ball and shackle?
Things To Note
For fans of Janelle Monáe, while she matters in the movie, she isn’t in it enough to say she plays a central role. She only has about 3-5 scenes in total.
Despite Three Actors Playing Chiron, They Are Consistent
Both in terms of performance and impact, all three periods of Chiron are excellent and are made to matter. Hibbert does his part in making you care about this boy; Sanders gives you hope through his relationship with Holland’s Kevin and what Chiron does to Tarel; and Rhodes exhibits what happens to a young man who never really, truly, got what he deserved. So, because of that, the sweet, vulnerable, and a bit emotional, child is erased and a hardened man is put in his place.
And what makes this seem so masterful is, for each step, it is like these actors worked so closely together they became pieces of one whole person. What I mean is, it is like they learned how to mimic each other’s personalities, mannerisms, and it makes it so, similar to Boyhood I guess, it is almost like seeing the same person over time. Also, like noted, not only are they written to have an individualized importance, but no one is the weak link. Even Hibbert, the youngest of the three, commands the screen and your attention without the movie using cheap tricks like him getting beat, molested, or any type of violence really coming to him. It is all him.
Gaps & Missing Information
With the story focused solely on Chiron and everyone else strictly playing a supporting role, it leads to a lot of gaps when it comes to character development. One prime example is Paula. When we first meet her she is an LPN at a hospital. Yet, be it her boyfriend or maybe she was a functioning drug addict who slipped into the deep end, eventually she is just a mess. One which isn’t even a compelling drug addict for we don’t fully get to understand her troubles. We don’t get some means or method to gain sympathy for her outside of the shallow thought of “this is what the stress of poverty can do to you.” It doesn’t end there either. Something happens to Juan and we don’t learn the full details about it. We aren’t really sure what Teresa does all day, and when it comes to Kevin, while we know Chiron is questioning his sexuality, we have no idea where his mind is. Which, during the teen years, is something you really wish became a conversation.
On The Fence
A Life in 3 Acts
As noted in the criticism, the best and worse thing about this movie is it splits itself between three time periods of Chiron’s life of which, all of them could be their own individualized movie. Yet, really thinking about how many LGBT films are released, much less with any sort of hype and promotion, then ones dealing with Black men, much less masculine Black men, and then you just become thankful this movie was able to get financing and distribution at all.
Overall: Worth Seeing
While it is frustrating that the supporting characters have inconsistent development, or simply we aren’t told information which seems important, it is hard to deny this film will keep your attention throughout. I mean, just to give you an idea of how much I liked the film, unfortunately, I had to use the bathroom for the majority of it but I so badly didn’t want to miss a thing that I held myself together and ran as soon as the credits rolled.