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Bask in the Significance of Moonlight

March 1, 2017

Over the year of 2016, an array of films were released, some great, and some not. One stands out above all the rest, however. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, proved to be a masterfully significant piece that will undoubtedly stand the test of time due to its authenticity and complexity.

It is well known by now that there was a mishap at the end of the 89th Annual Academy Awards, the details of which don’t matter at this point and do not need to be harped on any further.

What is important and truly matters is the fact that Moonlight did indeed win Best Picture, making history as the first black-centric, and first LGBTQ film to win the category.

Adapted from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight explores the life of Chiron, a gay black man in Miami, Florida, as he struggles with finding his identity in relation to and in spite of the conditions in which he grows.

Moonlight explores Chiron’s life in three distinct segments, driving home the stages of his grips with his identity, spurred on by the interactions of those around him.

Through the three stages of Chiron’s story, we see his identity change, for better or worse, as he copes and adapts to his circumstances. Each stage shows him develop from a timid yet curious nine-year-old, played by Alex Hibbert, to a bullied, lanky, lonely teenager in high school, played by Ashton Sanders, to a fabricated persona of masculinity in his 20s, played by Trevante Rhodes.

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Alex Hibbert in Moonlight, A24 Films

Through emotionally charged yet nuanced performances from the films’ actors, as well as Barry Jenkins’ artful execution, Moonlight is a beautifully complex, dream-like film that maintains reality and authenticity.

The film exudes a level of truth and seems so much the opposite of its over-processed counterparts, that it inexplicably comes across as an indie film.

It features very few wide shots, sticking mainly with contained close ups, which keeps the audience up close and personal throughout the conflicts of its characters. Jenkins’ floating-on-air filming style creates the effect of one omnisciently drifting behind the film’s protagonist as he navigates life, with changes in the stability of the drift as scenes become more emotionally intense.

The true significance of the Moonlight lies in its protagonists’ point of view and his multi-faceted life struggle. Chiron is a black, gay, impoverished man. This specific set of traits are very rarely mixed in mainstream cinema or television. This film not only tells a compelling story, but also gives people who are rarely represented a mirror into which they may see themselves and their own experiences.

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I think what happens is people are seeing those memories that I created on the page. Barry framed them in ways that you could be inside of them. And the thing about memory is that it’s not what was remembered visually or sonically, or even what we smell. The memory is the feeling. And what triggers that memory is something that we see. So you see something that looks like something you remember.”

— Tarell Alvin McCraney

Moonlight explores hyper-masculinity, the treatment of gay men, and the way their identities are affected by the world, all centered specifically around black men. Very rarely do we see these topics with black people at the center, rather than in the background as props for the protagonist.

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Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in “Moonlight”, A24 Films

Complex and rich, the movie illustrates not only the struggle of denying hyper-masculine norms, and the
understanding of one’s sexuality, but the capacity for and existence of love and vulnerability in black men.

This representation is why Moonlight stands out among the movies released in the back half of 2016. It isn’t a quirky musical tale about a cis-heterosexual white couple who dreams about being more than they are, even though what they are isn’t in any way as looked down upon as those who see themselves in Moonlight’s protagonist.

Moonlight isn’t glamorous, it isn’t flashy, and it isn’t a spectacle. It is realistic. It is true. It is authentic.

We have recently seen a beautiful uprising of films that no longer cater to a very specific subset of America. Alongside movies like Fences, Get Out, and Hidden Figures, the achievement of Moonlight’s very existence will inform the development and success of black cinema. These movies are only the start.

Moonlight can potentially open the door to even more black LGBTQ writers and filmmakers whose voices have been yet unheard due to lack of a chance and lack of belief that their message will be received.

One hopes that the entertainment industry continues to progress, not for the sake of progress, but to continue to give people they representation that they deserve.

But for now, let us simply bask in the glow of Moonlight.

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