Mount St. Joseph University

Review: “Moonlight”: And the Oscar Goes To?

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Michael Mullin

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you.” This advice is given by one of the most poignant characters in the film Moonlight, Juan, who is played by none other than the Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali. His advice is softly handed down to a very young “Little,” who is played by Alex R. Hibbert at the beginning of the film. Although Juan is not in the film very long, he makes his presence known and impacts a young "Little" aka Chiron. Chiron, the main character in Moonlight, is obviously trying to figure out who he really is. You’ll learn later about what all that may mean, but the beginning of the story sets the foundation for the rest of the story to unravel. Now let’s make one thing perfectly clear. No matter what you’ve heard so far about Moonlight as a film, or simply about its subject matter, trust me when I say that it will be worth your investment of time and money.

The story is based on the life of screenwriter and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. The story behind the making of this project is an interesting one that I’d like to share. Tarell (or for all intents and purposes for the sake of those who have seen or are going to see the film, Chiron) was a young black man who grew up in Liberty City, Fla., a small and in all honesty, drug-ridden suburb of Miami. McCraney was a young man who grew up, unbelievably, with the film’s director, Barry Jenkins. Both of the men were born to mothers who were addicted to crack and who had both contracted the HIV virus. In 2003 McCraney was a student at Yale University School of Drama when he was given a script by a mutual friend based personally on young black men growing up in Florida. After several years he ended up adapting the script. He molded it into a script based loosely on his life growing up.

So the story starts off with a young boy, “Little” as he is referred to in the film, who is growing up in Liberty City, a suburb of Miami, considered one of the roughest and poorest neighborhoods within the city. The city is home to one of the largest concentrations of African Americans in South Florida. Due to the small size of Liberty City, along with the rise of the crack epidemic in the 1980’s and 90’s that particularly affected the small town, it was hard for a young black man to escape. To hurdle the intense walls placed around a young man like Chiron by poverty would be a daunting task. One of the unfortunate situations that affected "Little" in the movie was the situation with his own mother. Little’s mother was addicted to crack cocaine and was not around to take care of him for most of his young adult life. When Chiron was a young boy he was taken in by some in the community. Juan is one of those characters who takes care of Little and brings him into his home for comfort and food while his mother is neglecting him. Juan’s character is loosely based on Tarell McCraney’s real father who took care of him and comforted him up until the age of six years old when his father was shot and killed.
One of the things that we learn about Chiron as a young boy living in a drug-infested and poor city in Miami is that he’s very quiet. To be quiet is equivalent to staying away from and altogether avoiding trouble. Little’s shyness is part of the reason you may become frustrated with this film at the beginning. His hushed manner protects him in a sense. You have to realize, as a viewer, that Little’s main motivation is to avoid confrontation. His only true friends come out of love and compassion that poke through each on a minor and later on in his life on a major scale. His first true friend and one of the few women in his life that truly loved him and took care of him was Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend. Teresa is somewhat of a surrogate mother to Chiron at such a young age. She feeds him and clothes him when he’s in need. Teresa dictates to Chiron one of the shortest lines in the film. She asks Little a short but powerful question. “You live with your mama?” Chiron responds with, “I hate her.” There really is no worse feeling you can get from a young boy expressing such hate for his mother.

The story is set up in three parts. The first obviously focuses on when Chiron was a young boy trying to avoid bullies and meet friends. The second part of the film centers on Chiron as a teen, battling accusations and bullies daily. The final part shows Chiron as an adult, grown and away from all of the pain and suffering that he took as a child. Obviously, I am leaving a lot out of this review because I feel that as an Oscar winning film that shocked the entire world, it deserves to be watched and seen through its entirety. I don’t want to give too much away.  If you have a hard time with accepting certain aspects of the gay community, this movie may be difficult for you to watch. There is still no reason for you not to watch the film. As college students we are constantly trying to figure out who we are. Trying to find our real selves is the most difficult part about this whole college deal. That’s the entire point of college: to discover who you truly are. This movie isn’t about a gay black man in Miami. It’s about a boy trying to find himself during a time when the world, compared to now, was totally upside down in regards to social issues. It’s about one young man's struggle to progress in an intense community that is plagued by drugs and judgment. Altogether there is only one true Chiron. We see three different life stages, but we know who he truly is. We know where he holds his heart and whom he holds it for.

The Oscars were a nightmare, but they didn’t make a mistake in my opinion. Moonlight is the best movie of the year. I would even put Nocturnal Animals above La La Land.  The best movies jerk at your emotions. They cause either sadness or joy. I believe that some of the best films ever made have been somewhat depressing. Moonlight made history with an all black cast that was nominated at the Oscars in 2017 for Best Director, Original Music Score, and Cinematography, along with Film Editing and Best Supporting Actress. Those categories were the losses Moonlight received. The three categories that ended up winning Oscars for the film were Best Supporting Actor to Mahershala Ali, Best Writing Adapted Screenplay won by Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and of course, Best Picture.

There really is no reason not to watch this movie. Give it a chance. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. I give it my seal of approval.