It’s rare that I ever see a movie that delves into the subject of homosexuality show up in mainstream cinemas. It’s even rarer for one to garner any type of awards, especially the Oscars. The last time this happened dates all the way back to 2005 with Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain”, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. But I think this dry spell is bound to end with the recent release of a little gem of a movie titled “Moonlight”.
I was actually surprised when I discovered this film playing locally here in Toledo given how small of a city we are. Normally, very few artsy-based features ever make it into one of the only three theaters we have here. Instead it’s usually more of the standard blockbuster-type popcorn fare. In light of knowing that, a couple days later I attended one of its screenings seeing that most movies like this tend to last no more than a week or two here.
Slightly reminiscent of the movie “Boyhood”, Moonlight chronicles the story of a shy African American kid named Chiron through three different periods of his life: pre-teen (played by Alex R. Hibbert), teenager (played by Ashton Sanders), and young adult (played by Trevante Rhodes). From the onset, we learn that Chiron is desperately trying to find his place in the world. Fatherless and living with a drug-addicted mother in a rough neighborhood of Miami, Chiron has no role models. But when Juan (Maherhshala Ali), a local middle-aged drug dealer, saves him from a bunch of bullies, that all begins to change. The real shift in Chiron’s life takes place though when a boy named Kevin (Jaden Piner) befriends Chiron one day after both finish playing with a bunch of other kids on a soccer field. When Kevin attempts to toughen Chiron up, they end up in a playful wrestling match, which only seems to stir something deep from within for both. From there, the movie follows Chiron through those three periods, as he begins to grapple with his sexuality, his despair over his mother, and his lack of any sort of direction in life.
Without going into any more details so as not to spoil the plot any further, I think it’s best to say that Moonlight was probably the closest to some of my own experiences of coming out in life. While I may not have grown up in a rough neighborhood, I did experience the same lack of healthy parenting Chiron went through, given the dysfunctionality of my parents with their alcoholism and mental illness. And like Chiron as well, before I came to terms with my sexuality, I went through a long period of looking for role models in guys I was attracted to, which for me ranged widely from drug dealers to retired businessmen.
Without a doubt, this is much of the reason why Moonlight definitely struck several heart chords within me. Done in a very tasteful and never overly sexualized way, Moonlight speaks to the many struggles an individual often goes through in trying to come to terms with not only their sexuality, but also their place in life. By far, I feel Moonlight deserves to be healthily nominated during the upcoming film awards season. It’s my hope it will even penetrate the Academy Awards this year as well, seeing that movies centered around black people have sadly been overlooked more than not there.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend seeing Moonlight, even for those who don’t have a same-sex attraction, because like Brokeback Mountain did many years ago, this film speaks on more than one level and is done in a way that truly is gentle and moving to the soul. It really is a story that everyone can relate to and it’s my hope that more mainstream movies like this will be made in the near future. And just as importantly, it’s also my hope you’ll see why I gave the film 5 out of 5 stars.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson