Monday, November 21, 2016

I Saw MOONLIGHT

I was so moved by MOONLIGHT.  There were feelings of hurt and anger and confusion onscreen that echoed those just like the ones I had in my youth when I realized I was different.  This movie made tears stream down my face. MOONLIGHT is a remarkable film.  It's powerful, poetic, moving and memorable.  Director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins has given us one of the best films I've seen this year.  We follow the boy-to-manhood growth of a fatherless male named Chiron (pronounced Shy-rone). He's a boy who grows up in a tough section of Miami in 1980s.  He's jackknife slim and a good student who has a soulful, rightfully wary face.  He's quiet.  He's gay.  He's bullied and in need of kindness.
Chiron is dark-skinned.  He is, like grown-ups on my block in South Central L.A. used to say when I was kid, "so black he's almost blue."  In the film, there's a story about that same kind of observation that gives the film its title.
MOONLIGHT is significant.  It's real.  There's violence, there's tenderness.  It's intimate and compassionate.  It's a cinematic door opened that makes a way for other fresh voices and new images in film.

Chiron grows into tough manhood.  He's a muscular man who knows the mean streets and can survive on them.  He has power.  This is not the Hollywood stereotype of the black gay male.  We will see how the dysfunction of Chiron's early home life with his troubled single mother coupled with his rough days as a schoolboy have made him the young man he is -- and how that could change.
That's all I'm telling about about the story.  I want you to experience the rest for yourself.  I will tell you that Mahershala Ali as the black/Latino drug dealer who becomes a gentle father figure to young Chiron is absolutely outstanding.
                                              
The dinner table scene in which the sad, loner schoolboy asks his father figure what a faggot is will break your heart with its poignancy, its painful truth.  That is a memorable scene, beautifully written and performed.  Young Chiron really doesn't have a vocabulary to express his loneliness, to express how unconnected he feels to the world around him.  I remember that feeling.  Mahershala Ali is exceptional in this simple yet complicated scene.  Here's a clip in which his character, Juan, encounters Chiron's mother for the first time.

I really started paying more attention to Mr. Ali when I saw him as a regular on HOUSE OF CARDS with Kevin Spacey.  He was the best thing about FREE STATE OF JONES starring Matthew McConaughey earlier this year.  Ali as Moses in that Civil War drama is the film's highlight.  Singer Janelle Monae will have to balance film work with her music career.  She's got the right stuff for film acting and she's very good in this as the girlfriend to Chiron's caring but imperfect father figure.  The whole cast of MOONLIGHT is good -- especially the three actors who played Chiron in the three stages of his life that we experience.  Here's a trailer.
In Hollywood films, the experience of the black gay male has been pretty much ignored.  For the most part, Hollywood has portrayed black gay men as stereotypes and second class citizens if you will.  We didn't get the main roles like Tom Hanks in PHILADELPHIA, Philip Seymour Hoffman in CAPOTE, Sean Penn in MILK, Colin Firth in A SINGLE MAN, Greg Kinnear in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Ian McKellen in GODS AND MONSTERS, Ed Harris in THE HOURS and TOMMY LEE JONES in JFK.  All those actors got Oscar nominations for playing upscale gay men in those films.  The first three actors listed won the Best Actor Oscar.  Black actors in Hollywood films haven't traditionally received such substantial roles as gay characters.  Hollywood has yet to embrace that diversity.

MOONLIGHT shows how independent films make bold steps to bring in diversity and fresh stories, stories that Hollywood would be foolish to ignore.  This touching tale of self-discovery deserves Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

Note to actors:  Notice how actor Trevante Rhodes as adult Chiron eats when he goes to the diner.  Look at how he holds his fork.  That is an excellent, accurate detail for a young man who's traveled the life road that character has in the last few years.  That is exactly how Jamie Foxx should have held his fork in DJANGO UNCHAINED.







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