“I cry so much I could turn into drops.”
Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight tells the story of a young black man as he goes through three very pivotal stages in his life. These chapters: titled Little, Chiron and Black, are an extended look at his coming of age story, his sexuality and him trying to find his place in the world. We see what it’s like for a young nine year-old Chiron as he grows up in a rough neighbourhood in Miami, his awkward and painful teenage years and finally, how he acts as a fully grown man.
We grow up with Chiron, we learn about his insecurities, we learn his body language – the lowered chin, the silent stares, which all three actors replicate superbly – and we see him retreat into himself, and the sadness that brings. As he’s chased through chain link fences by bullies, forced away and pulled back by his drug addict mother and when he’s beaten both physically and mentally because of who he is, we connect with Chiron better than many other characters that have appeared on film in recent memory.
But before you write the movie off as an evening of sadness and despair, you should know that director Barry Jenkins doesn’t let that happen. Woven throughout Moonlight are some truly inspiring and incandescent moments of brilliance that lift the heart and spur the viewer on.
Without giving too much away – because you really, truly need to see this movie – one of the most powerful and moving scenes involves Little asking Mahershala Ali’s character what the word ‘faggot’ means. The response he gets, the follow up question about his own sexuality, and the silence that follows is an incredible cinematic moment to experience. It’s not just doom and gloom, it’s not all about sadness – the script doesn’t rub life lessons in your face or ask you for its pity. It holds Chiron’s story up as an example of how LGBT people of colour are affected day-in day-out, no matter their age, background or upbringing.
In addition to being one of the most incredibly told stories we’ve watched in recent years, the movie itself is beautifully shot and composed. Every scene, every character’s stare and every moment, no matter how insignificant, is given the time is deserves on screen. Often, it’s less what has been said, but more what hasn’t, and it’s those silences which hang heavy throughout the entire movie theatre – like a low level static shock; numbing and uncomfortable, but ultimately familiar.
It’s almost as if emotion, tension and wonder spill from the screen like waves throughout the movie. Using the haunting orchestral score interspersed with hip hop and rap from car stereos and the incredibly personal, tight close up shots of the characters living some of the most difficult years of their lives, no one who watches Moonlight can possibly leave untouched by this fantastic film.
At the screening we were lucky enough to attend, when the movie finished and the credits began to cycle across the screen, everyone remained seated. The entire theatre kept their seats for quite some time, as if in a daze at what we had just collectively watched. It was something very special.
Moonlight is a fantastic movie. It’s an unmissable movie and it’s also an important movie. Representation of LGBT people of colour in cinema has been woefully lacking in recent years, along with black representation in mainstream movies in general. If we’re lucky, Moonlight will act as a lightning rod, to spur filmmakers, producers and studios and commissioners to fund more movies telling these stories. Its representation of what it means to be a gay black man in America is essential viewing, and the discussions it raises on sexuality, hiding who you truly are and growing up seemingly in isolation need to be told and shared.
Moonlight is a wondrous movie. A stunning, faultless piece of gay cinema.
GT gives Moonlight – 5/5
Moonlight won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Motion Picture and will be in cinemas from 17 February.