Thanks to Odeon’s Screen Unseen, I was able to see Moonlight earlier than most in the UK. It was a great surprise and afterwards make me realise something else – even more surprising – it isn’t the frontrunner for this year’s Academy Awards.
Let’s cut to the chase right there: Moonlight deserves to take home a lion’s share of the Oscars. It isn’t because it’s edgy or brave, it’s because it’s well-made, beautifully told, expertly acted. The content almost becomes secondary.
It follows the lead character through three stages of his life, divided here into chapters titled after his changing name. He starts as Little, a shy and reclusive boy that is victim to bullying. While it may be questionable that at such a young age, his peers would detect a difference in sexuality, it is the implied reason for the bullying.
He befriends drug dealer, Juan. He gives the boy a few insights, introduces him to his warm girlfriend, Teresa, and offers an alternative view that his crack addicted mother provides. That’s a bit of a niggle, the man he trusts is also the man selling the product that is ruining his home life.
Naomie Harris plays his mother, Paula, and it’s a testament to her acting prowess that a real-life teetotaller is more believable as a crack addict than as Naomie Harris in interviews. The general consensus is that she delivers the performance of the film but I find it debatable.
By high school, Little becomes Chiron, child actor Alex Hibbert becomes Ashton Sanders and it’s entirely believable they are one and the same. Here the bullies are more violent, the sexual desire more pressing. His mother’s addiction more crippling. Teresa his only safe haven following the passing of Juan.
By the third act we meet a redefined Chiron, now named Black, a hangover nickname from his best friend, turned sexual outlet, Kevin. He now runs the street, has beefed up and has a gangster vibe. Wearing a hat like Juan, he has inhabited the underworld (albeit in a different city) that shaped his early years.
At first, the change in character is jarring but it slowly sticks. Chiron still lacks the ability to string together long sentences and is, for all intents and purposes, an outcast. Beneath his new look, the same little boy exists.
I don’t see it as a film about sexuality or race or social class. It’s a story about Little aka Chiron aka Black. Society relies too much on labels and uses them too readily. This proves the world is just people. Different people with different struggles that shouldn’t be defined by pigeon holing.
It works, and deserves accolades, for the way it allows the viewer to connect with Chiron.