Moonlight is both a beautiful and timeless meditation on the theme of discovering who you are, as well as a sensitive and very specific coming-of-age drama. The film explores three points in the life of Chiron is a black boy growing up in a poor, drug-infested neighbourhood in Miami.
In the first section, we are introduced to Chiron (at this point called ‘Little’) as a terrified little boy (played by Alex Hibbert) hiding from a gang of bullies in a ruined building. He is discovered by a local drug dealer, Blue (Mahershala Ali), who later becomes a mentor and father-figure to Little, whilst his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) struggles with her addiction to crack. Blue and his girlfriend Teresa provide Little with space to learn that it is okay to be himself.
This theme resonates throughout the second and third sections of the film. In the second section we meet Chiron as a teenager, slowly coming to terms with his growing attraction towards his friend Kevin, and finally as a fully grown-man named Black. Each is played by a different actor (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), but this works to the film’s advantage, suggesting that whilst Chiron is unique individual, but his situation is by no means unique.
At first glance, Chiron’s world is a stereotypical neighbourhood of drug dealers, crack addicts, and cheap institutional housing, but it’s a world that is transformed by the film’s treatment of it. A palette of rich blues, purples and blacks and a sweeping, classically inspired soundtrack restore the characters’ dignity and value. Here, Ali’s performance as Blue stands out, shifting naturally between the macho swagger of the drug dealer and the sensitivity and gentleness towards the terrified little boy cowering in an abandoned building.
Moonlight presents a world of beauty and terror, as seen through the watchful eyes of a black man’s coming to terms with his sexuality. It does not gloss over poverty or addiction, but it slips below the surface and restores significance and voice to the people whose lives it portrays. This is where the film’s power lies.