The 2016 Golden Globe award winner for best drama is a necessary film because the taboo subject of black American men coming to terms with their sexuality is as closeted in film as it is in real life. It’s an issue that can be transposed to most nations, it’s seems.
The few past attempts, that I’m aware of, which have aimed to tackle this subject seem to have been released to an established LGBT audience rather than to the general populace who need it most. In particular, I’m thinking of the excellent, short-lived television series, The DL Chronicles, an anthology series examining the lives of gay and bisexual Afro-American men who seek to fill their needs on the ‘down low’.
Moonlight handles the story sensitively with understated performances by a stellar cast. We meet the central character, then known as Little, as a young boy (Alex Hibbert). Picked on in primary school and raised in the poor, rough end of Miami, Little lives with his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) and finds support only through his friendship with best friend Kevin (Jaden Piner).
Little is taken under the wing of neighbourhood kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his caring girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae). They give him a safe space to sleep and eat, and adult guidance far from the harsh life that attacks him on every other front. It’s his first glimpse of love, happiness and family.
Moonlight is a trilogy that lets us witness three key periods in the boy’s life. Seven years on, we meet him as a teenager, now going by his birth name Chiron (Ashton Sanders). Not much has changed for him, with school bullies still targeting him and his home life now firmly balanced between his mother’s and Juan’s houses. This is a pivotal time. Chiron has his first sexual experience, he faces betrayal by those closest to him, and ultimately learns that there comes a time to make a stand.
Jumping to the final chapter, ten years later, Chiron has adopted the nickname given to him by Kevin. Known now as Black (Trevante Rhodes), he has grown into a muscular, jewel-clad powerhouse, but underneath it all remains that same, unsure child still searching for the intimacy that has escaped him his whole life.
Moonlight is engaging, tender, honest and heartbreaking. It’s beautifully shot, extremely well-acted, and handled with a lot of care and heart by Barry Jenkins’ excellent script and direction. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight is one of the must-see films of the year.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10
Moonlight opens today in cinemas across Australia.