Out of all of this year’s nominees for Best Picture, director Barry Jenkins’, “Moonlight,” has the potential to have the greatest impact. Based on the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this beautiful film does more than tell the story of one black man, it changes a narrative. It takes the story of Chiron, a gay, black boy growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, and shows it through a different lens.
This coming-of-age story is told in three parts. We first meet Chiron as a shy boy (Alex Hibbert) who’s earned the nickname “Little” for his meek nature. Next, as an anxious and wiry adolescent (Ashton Sanders) dealing with school bullies and the many stresses of being a teenager. Finally, as an adult and drug dealer (Trevante Rhodes), who goes by the name “Black.”
Throughout each stage of his story Chiron has positive and negative adult influences in his life. As Little, he’s befriended by the a drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) who finds him hiding from bullies. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) become unofficial foster parents for Little, whose mother (Naomie Harris) struggles to support herself and her son and with the beginnings of a drug addiction.
It’s these relationships that make Chiron into the man he is by the end of the film, but its also his own personal journey with his childhood friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland), that eventually leads him to accept his own sexuality. Kevin, is a sort of foil to Chiron, he has a similar background in that he is black and male, but with a different family life and a self confidence that Chiron lacks.
In some instances, the film seems to rely on stereotypes. A black boy from a bad neighborhood with a single mom who battles addiction and her own demons grows up to be a hardened criminal. Where it strays from the expected is in how it portrays the individuals who fulfill these stereotypes. While the characters in this story aren’t always shining examples of humanity, “Moonlight,” doesn’t judge, but shows compassion for their struggle.
In other cases, it turns those stereotypes on their head. Juan is the perfect example of this. He’s a surprising character in that he doesn’t fit the expected personality of a drug dealer. Portrayed by the insanely brilliant Mahershala Ali, in many ways he’s a contradiction, which the film points out. He shows compassion to Little, while profiting from an addiction that afflicts his mother. But it’s a contradiction that Juan is both aware of and seems to struggle with.
“Moonlight,” is surprising from beginning to end. It takes what seems like an unrelatable story, to those who come from very different backgrounds, and transforms it into an epic masterpiece that has the potential to broaden minds, and maybe even win an Oscar.
…just for fun: