‘Moonlight’ Shines with Poignant Storyline

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Jaden Piner as Kevin in a scene from the movie "Moonlight" directed by Barry Jenkins.

Cheyenne Cole
A&E Editor
@cheyenneccole

“Who is you, Chiron?”

This question lies at the center of the poignant drama “Moonlight.”

Critics praised “Moonlight” as one of the best films of 2016, generating accolades from prestigious organizations like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards – including a Best Picture nomination.

“Moonlight” is writer and director Barry Jenkins’ second feature film, adapting the screenplay from the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film chronicles the life of Chiron, a poor, gay black man, in three chapters from his childhood to adulthood in Miami.

Spoilers lie ahead for those who have yet to watch the movie.

Although three different actors portray Chiron, it is easy to believe they all play the same character throughout the film because each of the actors embody him flawlessly through their mannerisms.

From the first time the audience meets the protagonist as a small, shy boy, bullies are chasing him into an abandoned apartment. Chiron hides there until Juan (Mahershala Ali) coaxes Chiron into eating dinner with him.

Juan takes Chiron to his home and introduces the child to his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae). Juan and Teresa learn soon enough that Chiron’s mother is an emotionally abusive drug addict.

On a trip to the beach, Juan teaches Chiron to swim and gives him valuable advice: “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re gonna be – can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

Ali acts in a few of the best scenes of the film. In a particularly heartbreaking scene, a young Chiron asks Juan and Teresa what the word “f—–” means. Juan explains to him that it’s an insult to gay men but tells him that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.

The relationship that Chiron develops with Juan and Teresa throughout his childhood and pre-teen years is an influential one that shapes Chiron for the rest of his life.

It appears that Juan and Teresa are the only positive aspects of Chiron’s life.

One other confidant in his life is a young boy named Kevin, who tells him not to let the other boys push him around. He would later be a major player in Chiron’s growth.

In the next phase of Chiron’s life, the audience learns that Juan is dead, though Chiron is still in contact with Teresa. His mother is demanding money from him, and he still experiences bullying at school.

At this stage, he has his first sexual experience with Kevin, the only boy who treated Chiron like a human. However, Kevin betrays Chiron on the command of bullies – a betrayal that Chiron cannot take, especially from the only person he felt he could trust.

These actions lead Chiron to lash out in anger, an event that changes the course of his life.

The final chapter of “Moonlight” shows Chiron and Kevin’s reunion. As Barbara Lewis croons “Hello Stranger” from a diner jukebox, the two men reconcile.

The movie does not try to shock the audience with an unexpected ending or incongruent message. The end is true to the rest of the film and to Chiron’s nature: quiet.

The film’s superb score and visuals make for an even more powerful film.

“Moonlight” highlights a common problem that gay men experience: the repression of their homosexuality because of a societally-imposed toxic masculinity.

But never has the unique struggle of a gay black male been depicted so eloquently.

Never has a film so fully and so personally explored the homophobia that gay black men experience within their community.

Ali, who won both a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for his role as Juan, described “Moonlight” during an acceptance speech as a portrait of the unhealthy behaviors depicted within.

“We see what happens when we persecute people,” he said. “They fold into themselves.”

This depiction of the movie is nothing short of accurate.

Before Chiron even gets a chance to find out who he is, his peers and his mother define him with bullying and homosexual slurs. Before Chiron is even a teenager, people spew at him hate that crushes his spirit and prompts him to live in a bubble.

“Moonlight” is a fantastic, heart-wrenching film that deserves viewing, and Chiron’s story, representative of so many lives, is one that deserves telling.

It is the film that deserves the title of Best Picture of 2017.

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