Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review: "Moonlight" Shines as Groundbreaking American Cinema

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 15 (of 2017) by Leroy Douresseaux

Moonlight (2016)
Running time:  151 minutes
MPAA – R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
DIRECTOR:  Barry Jenkins
WRITERS:  Barry Jenkins; from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
PRODUCERS:  Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski
EDITORS:  Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders
COMPOSER: Nicholas Britell
Academy Award winner including “Best Picture”


Starring:  Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, and Janelle Monae

Moonlight is a 2016 coming-of-age drama from director Barry Jenkins.  This won the “Best Picture of the Year” Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards (February 2017).  It was the first film with an all-Black/African-American cast and also the first LGBT film to win the best picture Oscar.  Moonlight looks at the difficulties of identity and sexuality faced by the main character, an African-American male, by examining three stages of his life:  childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.

His name is Chiron (Alex Hibbert), but some call him by the nicknames, “Little” and “Black.”  In Liberty City, Miami, Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer originally form Cuba, finds Little in an abandoned crack house, hiding from a pack of bullies.  Juan and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), befriend Little, and Juan becomes a mentor, of sorts.  However, Little finds himself dealing with the word, “faggot,” and with the fact that his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is a customer of Juan's.

Later, teen Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is a high school student.  His mother's addiction is worse, and a bully named Terrel is constantly harassing him.  Chiron befriends another teenager, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who likes to call Chiron by the nickname “Black,” but their friendship will be complicated by high school politics.

Later, adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) deals drugs in Atlanta.  He tries to reconcile with his mother.  Also, after receiving a phone call from him, Chiron travels to Miami to reunite with an adult Kevin (AndrĂ© Holland) to explore what could have been.

In the moonlight, black Black boys look blue (or purple, as some people say).  I think what immediately makes Moonlight stand out is what a beautiful Black boy Alex Hibbert, who plays young Chiron, is.  His subtle and fiercely quiet performance gives life-blood to the early chapters of Moonlight.  Just his demeanor humanizes all young Black boys, putting them in a positive light, similar to the way other films make young White boys cute and precocious.  In this film, gay is a journey to discovery, and while that journey is difficult, it does not yield tragedy (as in Brokeback Mountain).  So Hibbert is the first leg of the relay race that carries Moonlight to Oscar gold.

When Mahershala Ali won the best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Juan, he became the first Muslim to win an Oscar.  Although the role is small, Juan is a giant, and Ali establishes him with richness and grace.  In a way, Ali is the pillar that supports this film, and he turns Juan into the rocket that launches the story of the stages in the life of Chiron.

Naomie Harris is electric as Paula, in a role that some African-American actresses are reluctant to play.  A Black female crack addict as a fictional character is just as likely to be a melodramatic trope as it is likely to be multi-layered character.  The crack-head can be a treacherous role, but Harris picks her spots; in each scene in which Paula appears, Harris gives her another layer.  Thus, she creates a character that can engage us, rather than a caricature that annoys the audience.

In fact, all of the performances here are good and the actors have excellent characters, via the story and screenplay, with which to work.  Tarell Alvin McCraney's story is rich source material, and Barry Jenkins turns it into a screenplay for the ages, simply because it is like nothing else before it.  Moonlight is achingly and beautifully human.  Here, the Black person – straight, gay, addict, bully, etc. –  is a life, a precious life – a life that matters.  The focus is not on tragedy but on love, connectivity, and reconciliation.  This makes Moonlight the best American LGBT or gay-theme film to date.

10 of 10

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Academy Awards, USA:  3 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski – Dede Gardner became the first woman to win Best Picture twice.), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Mahershala Ali), and “Best Adapted Screenplay” (Barry Jenkins-screenplay and Tarell Alvin McCraney-story); 5 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Naomie Harris), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Barry Jenkins), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (James Laxton), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders – Joi McMillon became the first African American female to be nominated for Best Film Editing.), and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)” (Nicholas Britell)

2017 Golden Globes, USA 2017:  1 win: “Best Motion Picture – Drama;” 5 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Mahershala Ali), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Naomie Harris), “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Barry Jenkins), “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Barry Jenkins), and “Best Original Score - Motion Picture: (Nicholas Britell)

2017 BAFTA Awards:  4 nominations: “Best Film” (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski), “Best Supporting Actor” (Mahershala Ali), “Best Supporting Actress” (Naomie Harris), and “Best Screenplay (Original)” (Barry Jenkins)

The text is copyright © 2017 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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