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Moonlight

A poignant look at one man’s struggle for self-acceptance

Drug-dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides the first safety and support that Chiron (Jaden Piner) has ever known in Moonlight. <<© Plan B Entertainment>>

There’s something wrong with Little (Alex R. Hibbert in his screen debut). His mama (Naomi Harris: Our Kind of Traitor) and the kids at school see it. He walks funny; he’s soft; he ain’t no man. Mama calls him names, and the boys at school chase and beat him. There is no place he feels safe.
    With Juan (Mahershala Ali: Luke Cage), a local drug dealer, he finds acceptance. Juan teaches him that being a man is more than going hard and showing off. Being a man is knowing who you are. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe: Rio 2) offer Little the first safe space he’s ever known.
    In high school, Little — now Ashton Sanders (The Skinny) — calls himself Chiron. But he’s still a pariah, still called gay and still tortured. Chiron also has a crush on the only boy in school who’s ever been nice to him. The attraction is clearly mutual, but consummation seems impossible.
    Chiron tries to navigate his feelings, his neighborhood and what it means to be a gay black man in America. Will he crack under the pressure?
    Beautifully acted, skillfully shot and heart-rendingly written, Moonlight is a powerful movie with important things to say about the perception of masculinity. Director Barry Jenkins uses his feature debut to examine the duality of male lives, exploring how they vacillate from hard swagger when trying to impress to genuine emotions and tenderness with loved ones. Even Juan, who preaches being true to oneself, is divided. On the streets, he’s all bravado and no nonsense. At home or with Little, he shows his nurturing side.
    Characters are authentic. There is no Hollywood sheen on these streets, and motives may not be explained. It’s up to you to enter Chiron’s world.
    The role of Chiron is divided among three actors: Hibbert in youth, Sanders as a teen and Trevante Rhodes (Westworld) as an adult. Their roles blend seamlessly into an epic portrayal of one man’s journey. Hibbert and Sanders both excel at Chiron’s fear and uncertainty, making him a timid, quiet boy always seeking someone to care. As an adult, Chiron becomes a parody of stereotypical black masculinity, blasting rap music, wearing grills and being the toughest guy on the block. Rhodes shows how hollow that existence feels.
    Lyrical, emotionally heavy and full of commentary on race and gender, Moonlight is not a popcorn flick. This film requires you to think and dig deep to understand the mass of conflicts that make up the principle characters. If you’re willing to put in the sweat equity, you’ll see one of the best films of the year.

Great Drama • R • 110 mins.