In a year bleeding with social conflicts, troubles and movements, Moonlight encompasses a bevy of emotions which make it nearly impossible to classify. What is it truly about? To scratch the surface, growing up black and gay in poverty. But Moonlight is more than that. It follows the imprinted steps of great films before it and weaves plot on top of development on top of conflict, then repeats again. Perceived villains become human, and our protagonist–a man of sparse words–speaks mostly with his eyes, somehow serving us with more vulnerability than any sentence could allow. There are layers of emotion and the stretching of characters all played against the backdrop of Miami’s drug infested era. Its shots of rich and glowing color and human reaction so proudly adapt Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, into a film almost too much to bear at times–but for reasons which illustrate a dismissed American experience.
We meet Chiron as a child. Small in size and meek in character, he’s dubbed “Little” and bullied relentlessly. Like a caterpillar evolving into a chrysalis then Monarch, we witness his manifestation from bullied boy (Alex Hibbert) to bullied teen that snaps (Ashton Sanders), to hardened adult (Trevante Rhodes). Each phase of Chiron’s carries the haunting baggage of its predecessor: the battle of homophobia versus his sexuality–which tangle his mind. Enough. Chiron struggles to be enough. This was a topic frequently discussed in 2016. What exactly qualifies as manhood and how is it measured? Do black males suffer more from the pressures of this confined ideal of masculinity?
“I get a ton of messages on Facebook and Instagram from young Black men, 95 percent of which say what Hilton Als said in his New Yorker story — that he never thought he’d see himself represented onscreen. That means the world to me, because I know what it’s like to feel voiceless and unseen. When we don’t see images outside of ourselves, we feel invisible. So now there are all these young men who feel like they are finally being seen.”–Director, Barry Jenkins, Village Voice
“I let all the actors know what the deal was in the beginning — that so much of the dramatic currency wasn’t going to be in the dialogue. That a lot of it was going to be in their reactions, and how they processed things.
“I wanted the audience to feel the externalization of this interior voice as it played out on their faces. The script’s about a hundred pages, and the running time of the film is about 105 minutes. A lot of that is taken up by the moment between the lines, the spaces between the beats. I told them all to take as much time as they needed to process things, and if you needed more time to process, then you go ahead and take that moment. Because the camera is just going to roll. The more seasoned actors, Mahershala, Naomie Harris, André Holland, all relished the freedom to actually be human on camera, as opposed to being this thing that has to follow coordinates and hit this or that mark at a particular time.”–Barry Jenkins
No matter each viewer’s particular opinion on this stigma, Moonlight‘s director, Barry Jenkins, has accomplished the ability to gift his audience with the seed of empathy. He does not dismiss the specific elements and demographics which make up Chiron’s plight by blurring the lines. He makes them identifiable as human, as souls walking in shells, plagued with drugs, abuse and the returning voice of morality that reminds them of how far gone they are. And while it hurts to view this, its this same component that keeps us invested in hoping for Chiron’s better days. This is what defines the coming of age experience. We can be broken down to dust, but the tenacity of our souls rebuilds us into something more indestructible, specially crafted for the life we aspire for ourselves.
For all these reasons, Moonlight is a must see.
Its title is expected to saturate awards season. However, in the unexpected instance it does not, it is still a champion for its visceral accomplishment and contribution to both the landscape of film and black cinema.
“I think this is an amazing time to be a Black artist, not just for the reception of the work, but because I didn’t have to look far to find other Black artists to take inspiration from, or to take counsel from. In that way we are working informally together towards — I don’t want to say for common goal — but we’re all adding to the complexity of what it means to be a Black person in America, a Black person in the world. It just feels right to be a part of it.”–Barry Jenkins, Village Voice
Although his journey was not without struggle, Jenkins’ sophomore effort at directing has practically shot him up to A-list terrain. His future plans include the continuation of his partnership with production company, Plan B (helmed by Brad Pitt) and Adele Romanski–who both produced Moonlight–by bringing Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, to life. Whether the adaption will be seen in theaters or on the small screen remains to be known. You can bet it will be interesting, as the story flirts with the genres of magical realism, history and fantasy.
Per its summary, The Underground Railroad will take audiences through one heck of an adventure.
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. (Good Reads)
That’s one dynamic plot. Given Jenkins’ methodical approach to his work and the gorgeous prose of Colson Whitehead, this upcoming project teases a fresh take on a particular and well known experience. I will definitely await its debut, just as did Moonlight. Hopefully, not for too long.