S2: The Black Elite (Outside the Box) – Highlighting Blacks in Prominent Roles in Film/TV.
Ep 2: Moonlight
When Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars 2017, Hollywood was put on notice. The Black Elite can create and execute some good movie ideas. Those that have been following me since the beginning (link to black piece) know the burden of proof has always been on Hollywood. They could only hide the shine for so long. The true treasure of this work is the supporting cast, both behind and in front of the camera. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, the coming of age film centers on Chiron throughout major stages during his life and shows us that not all one’s growth is done within the family. Moonlight is fresh air for Black cinema as it presents the Black Man’s experience in a way that demands to be taken seriously.
Moonlight‘s digestible format allows for drastic character development yet technically consistent design. The film is broken up in thirds for major events of Chiron’s adolescence through adulthood. A chance crossing with Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, during a chase from bullies, leads to events that will shape him forever. At that time known as Little, played by Alex Hibbert, we soon learn of his Mother, Paula, played by Naomie Harris, her fierce drug addiction, and strangely, her equally contemptuous energy she held for her son. As a confused teenager, Little has matured into Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders, who mostly spends his time being raised by Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, played by Janelle Monáe. Though Mahershala Ali shows us how to win an Oscar in 35 minutes, Chiron is forced to grow without Juan. The bullying has somehow increased but his one friend, Kevin, played by Jharrel Jerome, does his best to keep him calm in ways most do not foresee. We see Chiron’s relationship with his mom has gotten worse but Teresa is still there to make him self sufficient. Moonlight takes a sudden turn when we see Chiron’s dream. This is far from your typical Black film and suddenly, this film has new meaning about 45 minutes in. As Chiron’s bullying builds to a climax, he morphs into Black, played by Trevante Rhodes, upon his exit from a stint in prison. In possibly an homage to Juan, Black is a professional drug dealer. A lifestyle choice he clearly regrets as he reconnects with his friend, Kevin, played by André Holland. It is only when he reconnects with his mother that he learns regret can be a familiar feeling. In what ends up as the most innocent love story in years, Moonlight insists there is more to the youth than appealing to base senses.
The biggest distraction of Moonlight is how it’s shot. The whole ordeal looks effortlessly put together as natural lighting, shadow play, and some talent seem to fill rather simple spaces. Well versed minds know this is far from the case. Which makes the final product even more praise worthy. Cinematographer, James Laxton, leaves his identity on every scene with fantastic lighting with respect to Black faces. A standout moment in this film is Chiron’s mom, Paula standing front of her room, yelling at him. A moment that would become a source of trauma as an adult for Black but one we can view in complete awe. The color leaking from Paula’s room, implying that is her habitation, her home away from home. The exterior scenes are just as gorgeous as the interiors with staggering consistency between the major scenes. Moonlight was made to be enjoyed in 4k UHD quality.
Mahershala Ali may have most of the spotlight, Moonlight is arguably a star studded cast of nobodies. Ali has the most recognition, from Netflix’s Luke Cage to Green Book to HBO’s True Detective, Ali is creating his own hold on the Black market. Some would argue Naomie Harris steals the show as well. Rightfully so, her scene reconciling with her son years after her madness is some of the most authentic craftsmanship and we feel dirty at times watching it unfold with Black knowing our own family situations aren’t up to par. Harris is generating quite the slate of her own as she shared the screen with Dwayne Johnson in Rampage and is slated to be in Bond 25. While singer/songwriter, Janelle Monáe takes her voice to the big screen with a role in Hidden Figures, Amazon’s Electric Dreams, and future voice acting role in Ugly Dolls. Even Barry Jenkins has went on do write/direct If Beale Street Could Talk, a masterpiece in its own right as it links Jenkins with James Laxton once again for even more cinematic magic.
Moonlight is a rare film. It highlight an aspect of the Black experience that’s mostly left unacknowledged within the majority of the community. Though it should be praised for its casting, the film needs to also be praised for its plot and creative dice roles to let James Laxton tell his story in key moments of Moonlight. The perfect film doesn’t exist. However, one can definitely argue Moonlight gets a lot more right than wrong in its attempt to thrive in an space largely foreign to its vernacular.
Enjoy this philosophical quandary c/o Paula.
*Note: Now streaming on Amazon Prime and your favorite torrent sites.