Moonlight is easily the most impressive film I have ever seen. First of all, I’ll give you some stats to ponder. While Avatar took 10 years to make, Moonlight was filmed with only one camera in only 3 weeks. The budget was $1.5 million (274 times lower than Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides‘s $411 million). And most people in the film, including main characters, are young non-actors from Liberty City, Miami itself. It was the first full-length film Barry Jenkins ever wrote or directed, cinematographer James Laxton’s first major film, editor Joi McMillon’s first film, and composer Nicholas Britell’s first major score—yet each of these people did some of the best work ever done on an indie film, all tallying Oscar nominations. Ultimately it was nominated for a whopping 8 Oscars and picked up 3 wins (including Mahershala Ali for his first major acting role and Jenkins for his first screenplay), as well as the highest honor of them all: Best Picture.
But awards don’t do it justice. I remember seeing it at Dallas’s Magnolia Theater the day it came out. All I knew was that it’s a coming-of-age drama, and that critics were calling it one of the best films ever. They weren’t wrong. The technical features are so intricately done, and the depth of both the characters and the story is audacious. I found myself questioning reality, society, pain, neglect, the way people are treated by their perceived labels alone, the reductive stereotypes constructed by apathy, and many other things while equally marveling at the sheer artistic beauty. It tells a story nobody has seen on this level, certainly not those of us with money and status. And it is a serious film—the script makes sure with every line how immersed you are in Chiron’s ghetto—as the screenplay flashes you through the vignettes of the psyche of a young, impoverished, gay African-American growing up in a ghetto without a father, friends, or influences, whose mom is a crack addict (played brilliantly by Noamie Harris) and whose only role model is his mom’s compassionate drug dealer (played equally brilliantly by Ali). It defies and transcends conventional knowledge about many things, exploring the human condition through its darkest struggles. Moreover, the script, the screenplay, the cinematography, the score, and the overall acting are all revolutionary. This film will challenge you. It will break you. It will blow you away. It is a must-see if you value film as an art form.
P.S. This movie is not about being LGBTQ (as was conveyed during Oscar season). To say that is an insult to both the LGBTQ community and the film itself. It’s overly-simplified and dehumanizing. Moonlight is not a love story. It is a coming-of-age story where a man progresses through life despite its many obstacles (one of which being his sexuality in an intolerant place—but poverty, systemic racism, drugs, lack of support, etc. being equally important). Some of these are interdependent, but the point is that this film is not one-dimensional, nor are LGBTQ people. They are complex humans like anybody else.