Oscars 2017: Should Moonlight win Best Picture over La La Land?

Moonlight (2016) Mini Movie Review
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland

Moonlight is up for eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor & Actress and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. Of these categories, the two with a chance of winning in my humble opinion are Mahershala Ali’s rock solid supporting actor performance and the adapted screenplay which is up against tough competition.

I have mixed feelings about Moonlight due to the intense, heavy drama which makes it a challenging movie to get into but I gradually appreciated the story more as the acts progressed. Dividing the story into three different time periods of a black man’s life in urban America is really effective because we can understand how childhood and adolescent experiences shape him into a hardened adult. 

For boys it is very difficult to articulate their feelings, even harder for Chiron (aka Little) who’s an emotionally abused, sexually confused, bullied social outcast.  What’s most striking about Moonlight is how it masterfully captures the profound isolation and loneliness. It’s painful and tragic seeing Chiron emotionally disconnected from his own self.

My favorite scenes are at the beach where Chiron experiences rare moments of intimacy. In a way, these are bittersweet tragic moments because I think one of Moonlight’s less talked about themes is betrayal. Although Chiron doesn’t outright lay blame on father figure Juan (Mahershala Ali) and childhood crush Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), they do betray Chiron’s trust at crucial moments in his development. Imagine how different Chiron’s life would have turned out if he had consistent emotional guidance and support. It’s heartbreaking.

Barry Jenkin’s adpated script deserves a nod for not portraying Juan and Kevin as villains, just a man and boy making very poor decisions that impacted Chiron. Chiron’s mom failed him as well and the cycle of abuse makes him relive that pain daily. For every man, it’s important to understand how your family life upbringing impacts you in ways you might not even realize today and how learning to forgive is crucial to well-being. It’s a lesson that Chiron needs to learn to begin to accept himself and accept love from another person. 

Having seen Mahershala Ali’s work in House of Cards and Luke Cage, I’m not surprised by his strong performance in a small role that grounds the first part of the film. Naomie Harris, as Chiron’s mom, has a great screen presence and that special ability to elicit the precise audience reaction the scene is calling for.

Moonlight is a very personal drama about a gay black man, portrayed in a way that is rarely seen in cinema. It’s a good conversation starter about the restrictive societal roles that black boys experience and how redefining masculinity can be liberating. While Moonlight isn’t an easy film to get through, I’m glad that it’s received as many Oscar nominations as it did because it deserves a wide audience.

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