|'Yes, this is a portrait of a homosexual African-American man, but at its core Moonlight is about a human being struggling to find his place amongst other human beings'.|
After its success at this year's Oscars, Moonlight's importance in cinema history is now unquestionably set in stone. In winning Best Picture, Barry Jenkins' film became the first with an entirely black cast to do so. Earlier on in the night, Mahershala Ali received the award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film, becoming the first ever Muslim winner of an acting Oscar. Nonetheless, it should perhaps go without saying that the qualities of being 'important' and of being 'good' do not necessarily go hand in hand in the world of film. A flawed and only partially successful film can still be considered historic in what it attempts, just as a film that is both entertaining and expertly made might offer little of significance beneath this craft. Truly exceptional films excel in both of these areas; Moonlight is one of these films.
Much has been made - and rightly so - of Jenkins' nuanced depiction of both the black and gay communities in America, and in particular of where these two circles overlap. But what elevates Moonlight further still is the universality it achieves. Race and sexuality are undeniably pivotal, but Jenkins effortlessly avoids making his film solely a platform for addressing issues. Yes, this is a portrait of a homosexual African-American man, but at its core Moonlight is about a human being struggling to find his place amongst other human beings. This is a love story and a realist drama and a family saga and more told through carefully selected chapters, and Jenkins succeeds in crafting each in soaring, emotional fashion.
Jenkins' film might more accurately be described as a triptych than a portrait, offering three distinct episodes in the life of Chiron with three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) playing the character across the film. Spending the entire running time in any of the three periods would surely have proven to be a pleasure, so it initially seems a shame that Jenkins decides to lift us out of one to move to another. But with each third as strong as it proves to be, Moonlight's whole satisfyingly becomes much more than the sum of its parts.
The abrupt disappearance of a key early character sits uncomfortably at first, until you realise that this is exactly the sensation Jenkins wants you to feel, because that's exactly how Chiron feels about their absence too. The characterisation of Chiron in the final third also jars initially, feeling as though Rhodes could be playing a different role altogether; but once again, Jenkins justifies his fearless decision-making at precisely the right time and it pays off infinitely. Even when it appears to take potential missteps, Moonlight not only overcomes these but transforms them into undeniable strengths.