Moonlight is a 2016 American coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Barry Jenkins and based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.
The film presents three stages in the life of the main character. It explores the difficulties he faces with his own sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he receives as a result of it.
The film was released in the United States on October 21, 2016, and has grossed over US$55 million worldwide against a small US$1.5 million budget.
The film is also well loved by critics, sweeping many film awards. At the 74th Golden Globe Awards it won Best Motion Picture – Drama and was nominated in five other categories. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, along with Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and McCraney, from a total of eight nominations.
Moonlight is a big triumph for the underdogs and minority representations in Hollywood. It is the first film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film, and the second lowest-grossing film domestically (behind The Hurt Locker) to win the Best Picture award. The film’s editor, Joi McMillon, became the first black woman to be nominated for an editing Oscar (alongside co-editor Nat Sanders), and Ali became the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar.
The film is only released now in Singapore in 2017, after all the fanfare with the Oscar wins. Previously, Moonlight might have been deemed to be a commercial risk, given the niche genre, low budget and all-black cast.
It is good that we still get to watch it on the big screen now though. The film is definitely worth a watch.
Some may label it as the black version of Lee Ang’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), but I beg to differ. The only similarity is probably the tricky love-hate relationship between two gay men, one of whom seem to be able to swing both ways. Other than that, the story treatment, narrative and characters are very different.
Some also questioned if the film’s nominations and wins at this year’s Oscars was an attempt by the Academy of Motion Picture to pacify accusers on Hollywood white-washing – no, I would say Moonlight deserved the nominations and wins on it’s own merits.
At each stage of the lead character’s life, we are presented with a haunting, intimate portrayal to empathise for him and try to understand what he is going through.
As Little, he is a curious boy, unsure about his sexuality and his parents’ divorce.
As Chiron, he grows up to be a shy, reclusive teenager, frustrated with his mother’s drug addiction, the constant bullying at school and his own sexual orientation.
As Black, he hides his inner insecurity by beefing up and acting tough. Thuggish on the outside, Black is still the same Chiron and Little.
Through the telling of one person’s story, the viewers get to explore the wider theme about identity and experience the social realism faced by black Americans growing up in tough neighbourhoods, made worst if you happen to be gay.
Moonlight is rated M18 in Singapore and will be showing in Singapore cinemas from 27 April.