Riding a wave of positive buzz, MOONLIGHT, the visual marvel written and directed by Barry Jenkins, landed at the Toronto International Film Festival where it continued to wow audiences with its brutally honest portrayal of a gay black man’s journey. But don’t allow the hype attached to the festival hit influence your experience. Rather, Jenkins’ heartbreaking masterpiece is best viewed with a clear, open mind in order to fully absorb it’s emotional gut punch.
The tri-tiered story follows a gay black man in three specific times in his life. Think Boyhood but under three hours and more emotionally heavy — a lot more. In the first chapter, we are introduced to him as Little (Alex R. Hibbert), a grade school boy bullied by kids, under the care of an absent mother (Naomie Harris), and taken under the wing of a drug dealer with a heart of gold Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janelle Monae).
In chapter two we see him as his real name, Chiron (Ashton Sanders). His peers continue to torment him, but the bullying is dialed up in the hormonally charged halls of his high school while his drug addict mother becomes increasingly distant. And in the final chapter we see him as Black (Trevante Rhodes), a grown man whose life has made an unexpected turn, as he confronts his past and ultimately comes to terms with his sexuality.
Moonlight is not just another gay film. It’s a groundbreaking film about a gay person of color grappling with his sexuality — something that is seldom depicted in Hollywood which so often tends to relegate gay experiences to those that involve a sassy best friend or a hunky closeted frat bro. There have been a handful of indies that have tackled the subject but Moonlight expands the horizons of the LGBTQ community by telling a moving story about one gay black man.
Furthermore, Moonlight transcends with its rich and poignant narrative, one that takes us on Little/Chiron/Black’s journey of self-discovery, pain, as well as what it means to give and receive love. Each chapter is an amazing portrait of the endearing hero, but it’s Little’s story that hits the hardest. As a child we see him try to understand who he is at such a young and innocent age. All comes to a head in a stirring scene with Juan and Teresa, which proves to be one of the most emotionally charged scenes in films this year — maybe even this decade.
Under the direction of Jenkins, the cast proves itself to be a phenomenally talented ensemble. Known primarily as a musician, Janelle Monae proves that she is a multihyphenate in her acting debut while Naomie Harris is absolutely engaging as the troubled matriarch. Mahershala Ali is a wonder, as he continues to amaze with his remarkable skills. But it is the trio of Little, Chiron, and Black which defines and carries the film with grace through nuanced performances that will haunt you for days after watching.
Moonlight may tell a tender, yet dramatically intense journey of a gay black man, but you don’t need to be a person of color or gay to be affected by this story of strength, struggle, and love.
Running time: 110 minutes
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer