“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
A24, one of the premier independent film studios in the world, concluded their six week summer film series in Liberty City last night. The film series featured showings of A24 films projected onto billboards for only one night, in cities with which the films had a connection to. LADY BIRD in Sacramento, GOOD TIME in New York City, etc. Arguably A24’s most critically successful film, MOONLIGHT was filmed and set in my hometown of Miami, specifically in the neighborhood of Liberty City. There was a stand selling A24 merch, a local food truck selling Caribbean food, and, with chairs and blankets accommodated, about 100 guests gathered on a plot of land on the corner of 79th and 12th for a free and unique showing of MOONLIGHT.
MOONLIGHT is the story of Chiron, a quiet, young black male in Liberty City struggling with the internal conflict of his own sexuality and the external conflict of the chaotic environment he was brought up in. Chiron lives in poverty with his drug addicted mother and is constantly bullied for being different. He finds sanctuary in the home of Juan, a drug dealer, and his partner, Teresa, who serve as father and mother figures in place of his physically absent father and emotionally absent mother. Chiron also finds solace in his friendship with Kevin, a fellow classmate whom Chiron develop feelings for. The film is divided into three parts, which each part showing a different stage of Chiron’s life: his childhood, teenage years, and adulthood, and how the aforementioned conflicts follow him throughout his life.
Although each part showcases only a total of a few days of Chiron’s life, it feels as if you know each character personally. This is accredited, in part, to the immense talent of Barry Jenkins, the director and writer who crafted a world so intimate and lifelike that the characters feel like real people. He showcases every subtle moment between the characters, creating a feeling of tenderness using only silence and eyes. All it takes is a song playing on a jukebox or a hand in the sand to completely break down the viewer. The rest of the credit goes to the cast, especially to Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother and Mahershala Ali as Juan, who steal every scene they are in. Both were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress and Actor, respectively, with Ali taking home the Oscar. Ali’s win was particularly impressive because he won despite only having about 10 minutes of screen time, a testament to just how powerful his performance was, although his Miami accent needed work. Speaking of which, Miami-born Jenkins depicted Miami in an accurate fashion, down to the landmarks and Cuban food. As someone who has lived in Miami their whole life, it was refreshing to see a side of Miami in the media that isn’t South Beach. The neighborhoods that are depicted in MOONLIGHT are the parts of Miami that no one sees because they aren’t as glamorous as Ocean Drive, yet they are where the real people of Miami live.
This film depicts the trials and tribulations of a gay black man in America, trials and tribulations that so many people can relate to today, which is why this film is seen as so important in terms of representation and normalization in the media. It is seen as a landmark in film for being the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBTQ-related film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and it should not have taken until 2016 for either to happen. Bullies, fueled by toxic masculinity, make Chiron feel as if to be gay is to be weak, but messages of acceptance and understanding that are scattered and emphasized throughout the film remind you that it is okay to be who you are meant to be.
It is impossible for someone like me, who is both straight and white, to ever fully understand MOONLIGHT. Not to say that the film is targeted to a specific audience of gay black men with drug addicted mothers from Miami, but there is a certain aura of relatability that surrounds the film. Despite this, I feel as if you do not have to be of a certain demographic to enjoy good cinema, especially cinema as good as this. If you have ever had family problems. If you have ever felt alone. If you have ever struggled with finding who you are. If you have ever been in love. You will love and be moved by MOONLIGHT.
Final Rating: ★★★★½