By CYNTHIA BIDDLECOMB
“Moonlight,” nominated for Best Picture of 2016, as well as seven other Oscars, tells the story of a young boy named Chiron, cowered by the expectations of the world around him. His environment militates against showing any kind of vulnerability. He just isn’t a tough guy, like his peers. He lacks a trusted adult in whom to confide.
Poster for Moonlight. Courtesy image
Chiron is called “Little” when he’s young, because of his diminutive stature and extreme shyness. Chiron’s mother works as a nurse, but is not home enough to care for the boy. On a typical day after school, bullies chase him. A drug dealer with a heart finds him and offers Chiron an alternative to always being alone and scared.
The drug dealer is Juan, a black Cuban-American played by Mahershala Ali in a role for which Ali is nominated as Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Juan takes Chiron under his wing, and gives him a safe place to visit, with Teresa, Juan’s woman. The role of Teresa is played by Janelle Monáe, who with Ali recently starred in Hidden Figures. When Chiron’s mother is away, he goes to Teresa’s house to feel safe.
Naomie Harris has been nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for playing Paula, Chiron’s mother. Paula has difficulty knowing how to raise her boy on her own, especially when she understands him to be “soft”. What can she do to help him survive the rough neighborhood in which they live?
Young Chiron is played with great pathos by Alex Hibbert. The viewer just wants to hug the poor child. We smile as Juan teaches Chiron to swim and he begins to open up to both Juan and Teresa. But most of what Chiron is feeling we must discern from the tension in his face. He hangs his head. He doesn’t say much.
Teenage Chiron is played by Ashton Sanders. He is mercilessly teased, bullied and beat up. One day he finally fights back, but gets arrested for it. The young adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. He’s a tough guy, now, nicknamed “Black”, a name his childhood friend Kevin had called him. After Kevin hurt him in high school, Chiron hardened his heart, having no one to trust. He’s selling drugs now. Then one day, Kevin calls.
This is a hard-hitting film about the rough neighborhood life of a gentle boy. How does one learn to accept oneself when the environment is not supportive? And what if Chiron is gay? What are his options, then, in such a community?
Moonlight is “Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.” It certainly is not for everybody. But the sensitive portrayal of a young gay man coming of age in an urban, African American community may stimulate good discussion. How is trust established between parent and sensitive child? How does a child who is different grow into himself without role models?
Moonlight is nominated for cinematography, adapted screenplay, directing, editing and original musical score. It sensitively portrays a world angry at human need.