Moonlight Brings Simple Beauty to Awards Season

Things are looking up for the awards season: there is much more POC representation in the Golden Globe nominations this year, and thus we can assume (and hope) the trend will follow to the Oscars. With six Golden Globe nominations, Moonlight, Barry Jenkins' cinematic triumph, is a story about blackness that might not at first seem like a statement on race.

Moonlight is the story of Chiron, growing up as those around him break down, disappear, and disappoint him. The story in three parts (i. Little, ii. Chiron, iii. Black) looks at Chiron at different parts of his life, observing how the preceding part has influenced the next. The three are perhaps unrecognizable as the same person asides from the silent distrust and loneliness they mutually exude.

The movie doesn't deeply explore the idea of racism or what it means to be black in America. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single interaction involving a white person. But in doing that, Jenkins works in a dig at white audiences. We, white society, expect any story about blackness to somehow feature whiteness, whether it is combating racism or coming to terms with not being white. We can't stand to be out of the picture. Surely, there's commentary on being black in America, but the characters bring it out of themselves, not with the help of a white character. In that way, Moonlight delivers a critique on race, and makes a powerful statement to white audiences that they are not needed to make a story interesting or meaningful.

In a lot of ways the movie represents the vicious cycle; what happens when you are young guides who you will be when you're older. There's no escaping your past. Most of all it is a representation of the hazards of masculinity, especially in the black community. It is about coming to terms with what society expects of men when one doesn't, and can't, conform to them. It's a story of growing up with expectations and forcing one's self to follow them.

It's a quiet movie. There is no argument, no drug bust, no action sequence that makes us feel the movie has reached the climax. We are kept waiting, waiting for something to happen, something to change, or something to snap. Isn't that what we're all doing every day in our own lives?

The cinematography adds to the quiet, simple gorgeousness. Shots are held for a long time, focusing in so we can take in all the details. There's no flashy editing, just a dreamlike collage of scenes that leave the viewer a little hazy and unsure. The acting does the same. The actors' faces change only slightly, but when they do, they are so expressive and moving that you can feel every emotion for yourself. The ensemble cast works together beautifully, and the three actors that portray Chiron at each stage of his life blend into each other in a seamless evolution.

Moonlight is a haunting journey, a silent orchestra growing ever-closer to but never reaching crescendo. The dialogue is simple and muted for the most part-- there are no soliloquies or monologues with stirring language. The pain, the joy, the intense feeling is captured on the faces of the characters, and in what they don't say.

text: penny mack
visual: moonlight
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