In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s a tough watch, but tough in the way that a movie with this sort of subject matter should be.”
“Running around, catching a lot of light. In moonlight, black boys look blue.”
Every year for at least the last five, I’ve made a point of watching every Academy Awards Best Picture nominee before the Oscars ceremony. I’m enough of a move nerd and read enough pop culture news that I usually have a good idea of what will make the list long before its official, and I usually have a good idea of what every movie is, who made them and who stars in them.
This year, I was well and truly out of the loop, knowing close to nothing about several Oscar finalists. Including Moonlight. Before watching it, all I knew about this movie I had gleaned from its provocative poster design, which created some strong preconceptions. What Moonlight delivered totally met and totally defied those preconceptions.
In the kind of neighbourhood where crack is openly dealt on street corners, young boy Chiron (Alex Hibbert), nicknamed Little, is chased through back allies by fellow school kids, until he’s able to hide in an abandoned apartment building. Discovered there by local crack dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali), Little finds some security and adult guidance in the home of Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae). Security and adult guidance that is completely lacking in the home he shares with his crackhead mother, Paula (Naomi Harris).
Cut to a few years later, and Little is now a teenager (Ashton Sanders), going by his given name of Chiron and still struggling with bullies. If that wasn’t bad enough, he now has his emerging sexuality to also deal with. Cue part three, an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), going by the nickname Black, is now a gold toothed gangsta, dealing in drugs and violence.
What I expected form Moonlinght, based purely on the poster art, was a gritty, coming of age story and urban drama. The kind of movie were a fundamentally good kid struggles to find a way to survive the streets, while maintaining his humanity and not turning into the kind of person who makes it so difficult for a fundamentally good kid to survive the streets. That’s what I expected, and that’s what Moonlight gave me. But it never gave me any of that in ways I could predict or ways that seemed rehashed or cliched.
Moonlight is a tough watch, but tough in the way that a movie with this sort of subject matter should be. It doesn’t glorify anything, it doesn’t sugar coat anything, it doesn’t take the easy way out or ever settle for typical story beats to help the audience stay with Chiron through his many years of torment, violence and mistakes. And because of that, it is no way the kind of movie I’ll be re watching again anytime soon. But it’s a movie I’m defiantly glad I’ve seen and will definitely think about for a while to come.