A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami.
Filmmaker Barry Jenkins puts his name on the map with this heavy hitting but rewarding coming of age tale.
His second feature Moonlight is basking in a Golden Globe glow Best Drama win, and is an Oscar tip especially after last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. No wonder as he’s a talent to watch, with a strong black gay voice telling a powerful story not often told. Split into three formative stages Jenkins’ handles the structure and subject matter expertly, and his play-based script with themes of isolation and sexuality should resonate.
The three mostly unknown actors chosen each hold their own, with Ashton Sanders (who plays the teen Chiron) the standout by a whisker – mainly for the brutally realistic bullying he endures. Janelle Monae (Skyfall) is frighteningly good as his addicted mother, and Mahershala Ali – Cottonmouth off Netflix’s Luke Cage – should get an Oscar nod for his compelling performance here.
Though for all it’s awards glory Moonlight is a difficult watch. The deliberate pace can frustrate, especially the last half hour, and it’s gut-wrenching story only gives a glimmer of hope at the end. It’s got a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes but this is not an entertaining Friday night at the multiplex.
But it is a beautiful thing to watch and listen too, with gorgeous cinematography from James Laxton - who makes urban Miami look like a masterpiece – and an eclectic R&B soundtrack with old school remixes, modern beats and Mozart.
Moonlight might be a dark and confronting watch for some, but it shines a light on a powerful new voice, and with some gripping performances it’s a movie that will stay with you.
Releases: 19th January 2017
Rating: M – Contains Violence, offensive language, drug use & sex scenes
Duration: 111 minutes
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson
Director: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy)
When Juan teaches Little how to swim, Mahershala Ali is really teaching Alex R. Hibbert how to swim. When production started, Hibbert did not know how to swim.
In an interview, Barry Jenkins said that the three actors who play Chiron never met during production. He wanted each of them to build their own persona of Chiron during their respective segments, with no influence from the other portrayals. The same technique was used with the actors who play Kevin.
Naomie Harris shot her entire role in three days in between her promotional tour of Spectre (2015).
The film is based on the unproduced play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by MacArthur Fellow Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Filmed over 25 days in October and November 2015 in South Florida.
Like Chiron, director Barry Jenkins also had a mother who suffered from addiction.
Moonlight has a very diverse score with music ranging from orchestra to "chopped and screwed." And as the film goes on, composer Nicholas Britell decided to "chop and screw" the orchestra to create a unique sound.
Naomie Harris is the only actor to appear in all three acts of the film.
The second song that plays in the Diner is "Hello Stranger" by Barbara Lewis. Director Barry Jenkins made the decision to actually play the song on the jukebox in the background while they were filming.
Both director Barry Jenkins and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney's vision was pretty clear and singular in that both men grew up in the same Liberty City neighborhood of Miami with mothers who had both struggled with drug addiction. Roughly 80% of the film was shot on location here, one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the United States. Initially the production was apprehensive about safety issues until the word got out that Jenkins was from the neighborhood - then everything changed for the better. The locals couldn't have been more welcoming and cooperative. Naomie Harris has said that she'd never felt so appreciated and at ease on a film set during the shoot.