Moonlight is the ultimate character study in what it is like to be young, black, and gay in an impoverished, drug-ridden neighborhood in Miami. That said, Moonlight is also the type of movie that cannot be put into a single category neatly; it transcends film, and as a member of the audience, I could not help but stand up and clap when the ending credits ran. Moonlight is a perfectly executed story from its score and pacing to its incredible characters, but the film is ultimately held together by the terrific performances of every single member of the cast. The main character, Chiron, is played by three different actors, and they all nail his characteristics perfectly. While the audience is able to notice that there is a new actor, it never feels that they are watching a different person.
Moonlight is broken into three acts, all following the story of Chiron at different stages of his life: young adolescence, mid-teens, and young adulthood. Part one, titled “Little,” introduces Juan (Mahershala Ali), who is the neighborhood drug dealer. He finds Chiron at this point, known as Little (Alex Hibbert), hiding in an abandoned crack house after being chased by a group of boys who wanted to fight him, calling him “gay.” Juan becomes little Chiron’s mentor, offering him the affection and emotional grounding he needs. As we learn the circumstances of Chiron’s unhappy life, we come to understand that his mom is addicted to crack, and Juan is the one who indirectly sells it to her.
Part two, titled “Chiron,” shows us Chiron’s life in high school. A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same, too. He is tormented every day by bullies, his addict mother, and his uncertain sexuality. The only comfort he can find at this point is from Paula (Naomie Harris), Juan’s wife. Things only get more confusing for Chiron as we learn more about his friendship with Kevin, also played by three actors (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland).
It is in part three, titled “Black,” that we learn just how severe Chiron’s identity crisis is and how much his character has changed over the course of the film; he is completely different, though it would be a mistake to spoil the specific ways in which he has transformed here.
Moonlight was one of my favorite movies of the year, and without giving too much away, I recommend you go watch it. It is a movie that is good for the soul, breaking down dangerous social constructs. I certainly think it deserves an Academy Award, and I would rate it a 9.5 out of 10 as an all-around terrific film.