Moonlight, as many of you may know, won Best Picture of the Year for the 2016 Academy Awards. It also won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali). Along with the three won, it was nominated for five more Oscars.
This movie may have slipped under the radar for most viewers because for its wide release it opened in only 650 theaters at the #11 spot in the box office. Never rising into the top ten, it stayed in the high teens to high twenties in the box office. The movie was made on a shoestring budget of $1.5 million and grossed around $27.5 million, so when it wins the most coveted prize in the film industry many may assume it was a sleeper hit.
Moonlight tells the story of an inner-city black kid in Florida named Chiron (Shy-rone) aka Little aka Black. His mother is a druggy and his father figure is a drug kingpin (Mahershala Ali) with a heart of gold. Kids tease him at school for not being tough, therefore he is deemed a ‘faggot’ for the rest of grade school, and his life spirals out of control into a life of crime and confusion.
The movie is broken into three parts: i.Little; ii.Chiron; iii.Black. And from that basis is how I will discuss the movie.
Interestingly the movie opens with Mahershala Ali’s character Juan. Eventually Juan and Little meet up and form a father-son bond. My problem with the first act is we are given surface level setup and must make logical leaps ourselves. So because Little won’t fight the other kids he is deemed gay? And Ali’s character and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) tell the young boy, “You might be gay and you’ll know it if you are.” Okay you’re not giving me a lot to go off here. I get Little has a bad home and he needs a father figure to guide him but honestly there is no meat here. Not much happens, not much is explained, and before the story can further develop there is roughly an eight to 10 year time jump. I was intrigued with this first act, but disappointed it wasn’t explored further.
I was shocked to find Mahershala Ali was only in roughly the first 30 to 45 minutes of the movie and for that performance he won an Oscar. His performance was fine, but definitely not Oscar worthy. There was a lot of potential with his character and I’m left scratching my head why he was ditched so early into the movie.
Chiron’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), did well but not incredible; the same goes for the new ‘Little’ played by Ashton Sanders. It is this and the second act that had the most potential.
The movie does a good job of showing how black inner-city culture is ridden with problems of drugs, broken homes, and lack of love. These are serious issues that are depicted and truly need to better addressed in our society, so it is good the movie addresses them.
I feel there is a lot missing concerning Chiron’s sexuality. I did not see questioning, confusion, or anything of the like with Chiron struggling to find his place in his community. The filmmakers gloss over the fact that Chiron has homosexual tendencies by not providing much, if any, character depth…we’re just left assuming for ourselves why he has homosexual tendencies. The focus seems to be not so much on his sexuality but the environment that created his sexuality and demonizes him for it. Though even with that the movie seems to come right to the brink of really discussing the issues and stops short by going to the next segment or expecting the audience to infer C because of A + the phantom B.
This is my main struggle with this movie is that it brings up deep subjects of parenthood, fatherlessness, inner-city black culture, and sexuality and stops just short of really getting into the nitty-gritty of these situations. I wanted these problems to be hashed out instead of dancing around the subject. Now, of course I did not want to be spoon fed but character depth is necessary; so is writing and storytelling.
Chiron grows up to become a drug lord like Juan. He’s a muscled up tough man who became a product of his environment on the outside yet seemingly became on the inside the opposite of what he was harassed for all his life.
Again, this final sequence shows he has become a product of his environment but eventually leads to the conclusion that he should be who he is…a gay man.
Trevante Rhodes (adult Chiron) does a great job of portraying tough yet innocent. It is apparent in his expressions when he is wondering whether to let his guard down. His facial expressions are spot on by depicting a man who has been forced into conforming into the lifestyle his culture forced him into, yet he is still a human being that longs for love and recognition. There is a nice scene between him and his mother that satisfies their story arc and provides restoration.
The final sequence between Chiron and Kevin troubles me, not simply because of the slow pace that had me anxious for a conclusion, but because of the message it states between the two.
Ultimately, Act III is incredibly hard to get through. The pacing drops to tortoise speed by dragging out the conclusion as long as possible, nothing of significance happens, except Chiron accepting the sexuality he was tormented and troubled over his entire life, along with his mother telling him she loves him.
~Rating & Recommendation
Moonlight overall troubles me for this reason; that being gay is how you are born and everyone knows it. There is a scene early on when Chiron’s mother and Juan have this exchange where she tells him, “Are you going to tell him what he is.” There is also a scene where Chiron seems to be having fun dancing with his classmates but not having fun playing sports. So am I supposed to believe the mom knows he’s gay because he won’t fight other kids, he doesn’t like to play rough sports, and he likes to dance? No, the truth his Chiron is a sad product of his incredibly screwed up environment. He has no father to guide him, his mother is a druggy prostitute, he lives in crime ridden poverty, his mentor is an unrealistic drug dealer with a heart of gold who is “unknowingly” contributing to the problem by providing drugs to Chiron’s mom, and ultimately Chiron is not shown true love but scorn and bullying plus enablement.
It really saddens me to know this is a real world scenario. No child should ever grow up in those circumstances or be persecuted by peers. It sickens me that because Chiron is bullied into being gay that is why he becomes gay or the other explanation is “That’s just the way he is.” I don’t agree with either of those which I feel the movie is promoting the message, “Homosexuality should be accepted.”
I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian. As Christians we should love everyone, but love and enablement are not the same thing. Homosexuality is a sin like all other sexual sins and those struggling with all sexual sin can find understanding and peace through Jesus Christ. I believe this movie sadly misses the mark when it comes to truth and finding true restoration through true love, not mention it is simply not that great of a movie in general as I have discussed above.
Moonlight won Best Picture of the Year, not because it truly was the Best Picture, but because of the agenda it promotes. Personally, Hacksaw Ridge should have won but the themes it promotes do not align with Hollywood’s agenda. I left Moonlight feeling thoroughly unsatisfied and thoroughly underwhelmed since now it takes its place in the pantheon of truly great cinematic masterpieces that have earned the title Best Picture of the Year.
I am giving Moonlight 4 stars out of 10 making it a Solid Not Recommend