Director/Writer: Barry Jenkins
based on the story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Music: Nicholas Britell
Cinematography: James Laxton
Alex R. Hibbert
In an exigent movement to redress the prevailing “Oscar so white” controversy in past years, indie filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ second feature MOONLIGHT, a Bildungsroman about a black gay boy growing up in Miami, has received unanimous adulation from the critics since the onset of this awards season, as the apotheosis of American cinema in 2016, after Nate Parker’s Sundance hit THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016) being damningly scuttled by the re-surface of the director/star’s erstwhile involvement of a rape charge.
Cropping up in the right time with a quirk of good fortune, MOONLIGHT becomes the “chosen one”, the go-to recipient of all the laurels and attention with both guilt-ridden and progressive voters alike, as a result, it is heaped with 8 Oscar nominations and it will not go home empty-handedly, but its chance to dethrone LA LA LAND (2016) for the top honor has been on the wane, mostly because of Theodore Melfi’s HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), a late-comer, but massively successful in the box office front, headlined by a triad of black actresses, will inevitably split the votes and even supersede MOONLIGHT as everyone’s favourite atonement pick (as SAG awards manifest).
As if knowingly constructing its story as a black-version of Richard Linklater’s all-white BOYHOOD (2014), MOONLIGHT doesn’t have its luxury to capture the real sense of time-passing, but opts for a trichotomous strategy by casting three different actors to play our leading character Chiron from a small child (Hibbert), to a high-schooler (Sanders), and finally an adult (Rhodes). Ghettoized in an exclusively dark-skinned milieu where school bullies, drug dealers are his daily-to-daily encounters, plus a perennially drug-addled mother (Harris) hovering at home, Chiron’s formative influences encompass his parents surrogate: the avuncular cracker pusher Juan (Ali) and his sensible girlfriend Teresa (Monáe) and his best friend Kevin (correspondently played by three different actors: Piner, Jerome and Holland), who will later engender his sexual awakening. Jenkins doesn’t put any of these controversial issues under the spotlight, not his sexuality, not his race, and Chiron and his bullies have the same skin color, let alone allowing any subplots from the subservient characters, Juan, as much as a pivotal figure in Chiron’s life, who simply disappears after the first chapter, and his premature demise would only be passingly referred in the next chapter; so is Kevin, much of his backstory vanishes into void.
Ali and Harris are bestowed with career-boosting Oscar-nominations, yet in my book, as charmingly affirming as Juan is, the former remains only the second best among its male cast (after Hibbert, an enthralling discovery for his searing intensity in his almost wordless incarnation), and the latter is benefitted from a showier character arc, Harris compellingly proves that she is a force to be reckoned with in her unflinching effort to bring honesty to her repugnant screen avatar in all three stages of Chiron’s life.
Jenkin has a particularly keen eye to transmit an aesthetic palette against the quotidian surroundings and a slithering camerawork doesn’t hurt either, which render an artistically beguiling flair to elicit a transcendent atmosphere (blue is indeed the warmest color) around the film’s unerring subject, Chiron and Chiron only, whose most salient attribute is his taciturnity, depicted with disparaging impact – the youngster Hibbert’s fixated glance is soul-stirring, whereas a rangy Sanders and a beefy Rhodes gear it up to gnawing distress and a charade of social impediment respectively, which precipitates a natural barrier between him and the audience since most of the time, we are dangled to outguess his much internalized emotional morass, but the outcome often leans towards a frustrating side, there is not much zest in him to keep us hooked although it is a frank tack to portray him like that, one must do love human race to really and deeply care about a character like Chiron, that’s one of the reasons why the film has become a word-of-mouth favourite apart from its obvious political correctness, no one wants to be labelled as a misanthrope, still, hyping it up as “the” best American film of the year can only hurt its cachet, someone must dare to be the devil’s advocate and say it out loud!