In the ebb and flow of Florida’s Southern coast, in Nicholas Britell’s plaintive melodies and Barbara Lewis’s ‘Hello Stranger’, in perhaps all of the poignant moments of his celebrated coming-of-age film, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins asks, “Who is you?”
Adapted from ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’, a story by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, Jenkins’ second feature, Moonlight, chronicles the life of young Chiron as he moves through boyhood, adolescence and young adulthood – respectively titled ‘Little’, ‘Chiron’, and ‘Black’ – producing a vivid portrait of life as a gay man of colour in America in general, and 1980s Miami in particular. At once socially conscious and breathtakingly real, the film navigates around questions of manhood and identity, exploring what it means to deviate from the norm in a socially rigid community, until its tender final act.
Opening with Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, as a wide-eyed boy running through urbanised Miami from a group of boys intent on beating him up, the film begins with its protagonist in fear, trying to understand his difference, other than being smaller then most of the boys chasing after him. In his adolescence – now played by Ashton Sanders – the gawky and sullen Chiron is still working out how to make his way through the world, turning to violence after being driven to his tipping point by the taunts and beatings of bully Terrel (Patrick Decile). In his third chapter as young adult who dons gold fronts, Chiron – played in this final act by Trevante Rhodes – harbours a wealth of suppressed feeling, something seen and felt, rather than said, in Moonlight. Across these chapters, amongst scenes so heart-breaking that they are at times almost unbearable to watch, Jenkins also offers a tale of love and friendship that has endured both time and pain.
To say that this is all that Moonlight is about would be to do Jenkins’ multi-award winning film a great disservice. Having drawn inspiration from Hou Hsiao-hsien’s love story Thee Times, Jenkins has created something complex, rich, and by turns deeply moving and uplifting. It is as beautiful as it is powerful. A triptych to be watched, then watched again.
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Words: Julia Gessler
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