SPOILER ALERT: this review contains spoilers.
This past Sunday, the 89th Academy Awards culminated in a moment that pop culture is not likely to soon forget: the dramatic announcement of “Moonlight” as best picture.
After the award was initially given to “La La Land,” it was revealed that the wrong envelope had been handed to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Although fans of the movie musical were disappointed that it lost, many were thrilled that the tale of a gay African-American boy struggling with his identity won instead.
“‘Moonlight’ has many amazing messages,” said Brandon Niemi, a secondary education freshman at MSU. “I think that it’s important for gay black youth and the LGBTQ community to see this story.”
The Oscars were much more diverse this year than in the past, a noteworthy accomplishment, given the recent #OscarsSoWhite movement. Best supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali of Moonlight and best supporting actress winner Viola Davis of Fences both broke acting barriers. Ali became the first Muslim to win an Oscar, while Davis became the first African-American to accomplish the Triple Crown of Acting (winning an Emmy, Tony and Oscar in acting categories). These victories—and those of several other nominated films and actors—show a step in the right direction by the Academy to be more inclusive, but there are still many groups left to be represented.
In addition to best picture and best supporting actor, “Moonlight” also won best adapted screenplay. Despite winning these awards, the success of “Moonlight” is something that director Barry Jenkins is wary about. In a recent interview with The Financial Times, Jenkins stated that he “wanted the characters to be free of ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘never before’. We were ascribed those things. They weren’t the point.”
“Moonlight” is based on a semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney entitled, ”In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” Jenkins mixed stories from both his childhood and that of McCraney’s to create the story of Chiron, a black man who struggles with his identity throughout his life. His tale is told in three sections—the first is him as a young boy (“Little”), the second as a teenager (“Chiron”) and the third as an adult (“Black”).
The film depicts Chiron growing up while trying to figure out who he is. Taunted by his classmates for being gay, Chiron struggles through his anger toward his emotionally abusive and crack-addicted mother, being bullied by classmate Terrel, who calls him “Little,” his love for parental figures Juan, a crack dealer, and Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, and his sexual thoughts for his friend Kevin, who nicknames him “Black.” After Chiron experiences a sexual dream about Kevin, he reveals his feelings and Kevin gives Chiron his first sexual experience. The next day, Kevin is pressured by Terrel into beating up Chiron, who then smashes a chair into Terrel and is led away in handcuffs. The final part of the movie shows Chiron, now a drug dealer himself, forgiving his mother and reuniting with Kevin. In a touching moment, Kevin tells Chiron that, despite past difficulties, he is happy with his life and Chiron responds by confessing that he has never been intimate with anyone other than Kevin. The film ends with Kevin holding Chiron in a tender embrace and signs off with a flashback showing a young Chiron playing in the ocean in the moonlight.
“Moonlight” addresses not only issues facing the LGBTQ and black communities, but also problems with the cycle of poverty, the fight to leave that cycle and the dangers of toxic masculinity. Chiron’s story is one faced by many but has been overlooked or undermined in society, making the film crucial.
The search for personal identity in a world full of bias and stereotypes is one that is important to see. Stories such as Chiron’s and those of Jenkins and McCraney show the extraordinary truths of human nature. Everyone deserves to have their stories told, and films like “Moonlight” show that the world is not straightforward but is complex and diverse and full of life.
Holly Bronson is a senior studying professional writing and arts and humanities, with a minor in peace and justice studies. In her rare free time, she loves to drink Earl Grey tea while thoroughly analyzing Harry Potter and telling lengthy stories from her various adventures around the globe. 🙂 Check out her portfolio at hollybbronson.com!