I’ll admit I was excited to hear about the brouhaha that was the announcement of the Best Picture Award at this year’s Academy Awards. I mean, if a live broadcast of a multi-million-dollar production with Hollywood’s best and brightest can’t nail the delivery of their grand finale, doesn’t that give us all permission to embrace our own imperfections?
I saw La La Land in the theatre last month with the intention to write a review for this column… but the whole thing was just plain ‘blah blah land’ for me. So, I ended up scrambling as the deadline loomed and went back to the theatre to review Hidden Figures, as you can read in the April issue.
In any case, the Oscar debacle piqued my interest in Moonlight.
Based on a play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the story of a boy coming of age is told in three acts. In the first act, “Little”, a young Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) struggles to make friends and stay safe on the playground as the other kids sense he is different. He spends large chunks of time unsupervised, as his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) works long hours and uses drugs in her spare time to try to cope with her life. It is in this act that Juan (a drug dealer played by Mahershala Ali) appears out of nowhere to offer kindness and some food and shelter to young Chiron. Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa (played by the stunning and talented Janelle Monae) offers a motherly dose of TLC and homemade fried chicken.
In the second act, “Chiron”, a high school-aged Chiron (Ashton Sanders) continues to barely exist. At times, it seems like he would happily vanish from the earth away from his pain and isolation. His mother continues to use, classmates continue to bully him, and he continues to struggle with his own sexual identity – a struggle which culminates in a tender and touching intimate exchange with a friend on the beach.
In the final act, “Black”, we find Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) in Atlanta working as a trapper (drug dealer). He has recurring nightmares and is still living life largely alone, before a call from home brings him back to make peace with his past.
Two things really struck me about this film: the cinematography and the use of water. At first, I found the unique camera positions and movement to be jarring and distracting. However, by the end of the film, I found the techniques expertly drew the viewer into the story.
Water keeps showing up in the film as almost a character in its own right. It washes over the camera when Juan teaches Chiron to swim in a very baptismal way. We wait expectantly as Chiron fills a large pot and boils it on the stove so he can add it to the bathtub to have a warm soak. Chiron soaks his face in a sink of ice water to ease the swelling after getting beat up. And he speaks of crying so much in his life that he feels like he could simply turn to liquid and roll into the ocean.
This is a rare gem of a film – the first I’ve seen that provides a glimpse into the world of inner city African-American poverty without graphic violence or sex or drug use scenes. It doesn’t sensationalize or glorify or exploit the stereotypes, but connects you to the humanity beyond the statistics and the headlines.
It would be easy to say this is a movie about growing up black, poor, and gay. But it truly felt so much richer than that. It is about relationships, about accepting ourselves, and about allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and connect with others.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature