Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

A review of Moonlight: A portrait of Black America

Harry Todd
Contributing Writer

Let’s just get this out of the way: Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is nothing short of stunning; an achievement on both aesthetic and emotional levels. It is one of the strongest films of the year.

The film follows the story of Chiron, whose nicknames provide titles for the film’s three acts, each one casting different actors to play the central ensemble at various points in their lives. Culminating in the understated, meditative final act, “Black,” the transformation we witness Chiron undergo is a revelation.

The three actors who play Chiron are not kindred spirits, they are the same spirit. Each performance is imbued with a quiet, raw authenticity that feels unique to the character. All the actors in this film deserve praise. Mahershala Ali and R&B crooner Janelle Monae make excellent, if unlikely, parental figures, while Chiron’s real mother, played by Naomie Harris, is characterized by her undercut, sideways glances towards other characters.

Moonlight’s biggest weakness might be its lack of narrative originality. Some plot beats are anticipated, like the revelation of one character’s death after an act break, though certainly not all. Even then, the way that this story is delivered justifies the price of admission; a shot that lets linger an image of Chiron’s hand digging into the sand in a fit of passion, for example, or a baptismal-esque swimming lesson between father figure Juan and a young Chiron that haunts the mind for the rest of the film’s duration.

This is a film that ambles and meditates. With a camera that moves seemingly at its own whim, every shot showcases beautiful aesthetic framing and detailing. The heavy saturation of colors and careful use of chiaroscuro bring out the vibrancy of the Miami setting while giving the emotional content of the film a beautiful backdrop against which it is juxtaposed.

Also worth mentioning is the film’s sound design, which is often used to isolate and interrogate Chiron; the way that the score overwhelms the film’s diegetic sound footsteps, breathing, and dialogue often punctuates feelings of anxiety to great effect. When combined with the cinematography, the effect is stunning; a point of view shot as Chiron runs home with the discordance of strings crafts a feeling only comparable to other moments in the film.

Nicholas Brittel’s score, meanwhile, contextualizes itself within the symphonic tradition, while the song that kicks the film off is the same song that Kendrick Lamar samples on the opening track of To Pimp a Butterfly. This is one of many ways that Moonlight finds itself in an intertextual conversation with other recent works grappling with similar core questions.

Moonlight’s thematic content interrogates questions of masculinity, blackness and sexuality. The film is obsessed with the concept of influence, and will certainly leave a lasting mark on the viewer.

It poses questions, offers answers and enlightens. Jenkins’ work is the rare film that will be remembered, written about, and canonized for content both thematic and formal, emotional and aesthetic for years to come. Moonlight is a revelation, a meditation and a wonder.

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One Response to “A review of Moonlight: A portrait of Black America”

  1. Shanariah says:

    Moonlight isn’t as good as people say; but it does have its strengths, for one it doesn’t in my opinion stay away from stereotypes instead it acknowledges them and makes them less dominant (I’m guessing because Berry Jenkins is a straight black man). Sorry to say but I knew it was coming when Kevin would somehow betray Chiron making him put on a mask almost his entire life. The camera work was still amazing and there were a couple of scenes that were over whelming but it was just a more thought out gay movie about acceptance. It lacked several areas and focus less of more prominent ones, this story has already been told its just wasn’t in such a propounding and amazing way. Only Alex, Asthon, and Marshalera Ali convinced me in their acting; with the exceptional Naomi Harris. It didn’t show blackness and a more sound way but instead fed us stereotypical gestures subliminally (Juan being a drug dealer, Paula being an addict, Kevin being to scared to let everyone know he was gay, Chiron immediately putting on his mask, Terrell the bully seeming to be either gay or bisexual but able to bully both homos and heterosexuals, Paula thinking because he walked less masculine he was gay; but really had no characteristics of being so when he was called “Little”). Also the ending left me empty and a bit confused; its actually rather hard not to think the film didn’t want you either feeling sorry for them or trying to understand them. it wasn’t a film about a black man struggles it was a movie about a gay black man struggles. Most of the white audiences are pleased with this motion picture saying its brilliant and timely, it instate all and it lacks originality and once again another black LGBTQ film fails to captivate me or keep me under its influence. I give the movie a B+; but I do give congrats to Berry Jenkins for his attempt and the impressive fact he did a whole lot better with convincing me at some points about the significant moment the a gay director. Also still congrats to al the actors because their performances still felt pretty real.

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