Director Barry Jenkins highlights the complexities of being young and different in a community that has no room for one’s uniqueness in his breakthrough film, Moonlight. The eight-time-Oscar-nominated film – including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director – was the recipient of the Best Motion Picture:Drama at the 74th Golden Globe Awards in January.
It is characteristic of Jenkins’ style of storytelling as seen in his 2008 breakout screenplay, Medicine for Melancholy, where he tells stories of ordinary black people navigating their way through life.
Moonlight is cast with a number of unfamiliar faces, an intentional effort from Jenkins to usher new black talent onto the Hollywood stage.
We are first introduced to young Chiron, a scrawny and morose boy living with his verbally abusive and drug-addicted mother in a rundown apartment in Miami. He is bullied for his appearance and meek nature and dubbed “Little” by his peers who mean to demean his size and conduct. One day, while running away from a group of bullies, he finds refuge in the house of a local drug dealer who later becomes a father figure to him.
Viewers encounter Chiron again, first as a teenager where he experiences his first sexual encounter which leaves him confused and misplaced in the world, and again as an adult who is now a drug dealer living in a different city under a new alias, Black.
The film has many spans of silent acting where there is no dialogue and the characters communicate emotion with their body language and facial gestures. Although highly acclaimed for its cinematography, subject matter and acting, the film is rather underwhelming in light of the Oscar buzz around it.
The storyline of the 110-minute film peaks at the halfway mark, building the viewer’s anticipation towards the events that might follow, however, it’s downhill from there. The film then delves into another aspect of the story, leaving the viewer hanging.
The film has an undeniable intensity which is carried by a strong cast that includes Naomie Harris, familiar to South Africans for her role as Winnie Mandela in the Golden Globe award-winning film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Unless one is particularly interested in the themes highlighted in this film, or is a fan of Jenkins’ work, one could easily miss Moonlight at the box office and wait for it to come up on TV.