Moonlight was adapted by writer-director Barry Jenkins from the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Full of action and relatively sparse in expository dialogue, Moonlight depicts the plight of disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic youth growing up in Liberty Square, an impoverished housing project in North Miami.
Although they did not know one another as boys, both McCraney and Jenkins grew up there and had similar experiences, which made the central character of the film, Chiron, a blend of their younger selves.
When we first meet Chiron (Alex Hibbert plays him as a boy), he is the target of the school bullies. Even with the protection of local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his partner Teresa (Janelle Monae), Chiron remains painfully introverted and fearful.
Ironically, although he becomes a surrogate father to her son, it is Juan who is dealing the crack that is destroying Chiron’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) and rendering Chiron’s life unbearable.
School is an ongoing nightmare despite his friendship with Kevin (played by Jaden Piner, then Jharrel Jerome). By their teenage years the bullying has taken on a sadistic, homophobic dimension. Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) finally cracks and retaliates.
In the final chapter of the story, we meet the men that these boys have become, both because of and in spite of their tough youth.
The power of the film is in its simple truthfulness. No scene feels contrived. The power of the writing and the performances lies in its understated, realistic depiction of life in Liberty Square. Moonlight tells it how it was.
Having garnered a swag of awards, Moonlight is a must-see.