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Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016)

Moonlight is a 3 phase depiction of the development of gay, socially awkward, black teenager Chiron- in an impoverished, urban Miami setting. The films story and setting naturally are a meditation stemming from the director and writer, Jenkins, background. However the films central point can be applied to all walks of life. The underlying questions of the film come from personal identity, how much we create to fit in with our environment and how much is an unchangeable nature. In the first phase of the film (I. Little) Chrirons presumed gay identity is challenged by his mother, but beyond that at a young age it's apparent that he must make personal decisions on how to present himself to fit into his environment. His newly found drug pushing father figure, Juan tells him "at one point you gotta decide for yourself who you want to be". His best friend "Kev" questions why he always lets the other kids pick on him, and asserts that he has to show himself as hard. However by chapter III of the film, when it seems Chiron finally takes these pieces of advice to heart, Kev once again challenges him by asking "Who are you?". Jenkins creates an extremely humanist piece with Moonlight- it's clear that Jaun and Kevin also have conflicts in identity. Between putting on a hard facade or sticking to their kind nature- both of them successfully balance both without losing themselves but being able to fit into their environment. On the contrary whether in adolescence, youth, or as an adult Chiron was never able to find a balance in the two. How much a person is the mask they wear and how much of their identity just comes from natural character is a central question of the film.

This film reminds me quite a bit the 2011 independent picture Pariah focusing on a lesbian, black teenager struggling with sexual expression in her conservative household. Both have similar raw screenplays that create extremely realistic, non-sensationalist, films. However while Moonlight has several dramatic scenes between Chiron and his mom, the questions of identity center around the relationships one build, by choice or not, within the setting they're raised in. The most dramatic and touching scenes of the film for me however were those when a young Chiron begins questioning why his mom acts the way she does, and is forced to realize that she's a drug addict. Why Jenkins makes this such a great humanist piece is he never depicts the mother as evil or the sole cause of the troubles, but it's an honest depiction of her as well. She's a sick woman, completely out of control of her actions. Doesn't excuse anything but explains everything. I can't say whether this film is deserving of the best picture or not, I haven't seen much of the competition including La La Land. I will say this film has many points to accolade including the cinematography and screenplay. A film about a niche struggle for the artists life but that has themes and meanings that apply to many.