Moonlight (2016)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman
March 19, 2017

Moonlight (2016)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writers: Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney (story by)
Stars: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson
Plot: A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
Plot Keywords: gay lead character - gay African American - homosexuality - homophobia
Taglines: This is the story of a lifetime.
Genres: Drama
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout - See all certifications at
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: November 18, 2016 (USA)
Filming Locations: Miami, Florida, USA
Box Office:
Budget: $1,500,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: $402,075 (USA) (October 21, 2016)
Company Credits: Production Co: A24, Plan B Entertainment
Runtime: 111 min
Color: Color
Called The Most Anticipated Black Film of 2016 by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts [BAFTA 2017] .
Won 3 Oscars. Another 186 wins and 242 nominations. See all awards at
Moonlight -- A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. Moonlight -- British actress Naomie Harris has been nominated for an Oscar for her role as a crack-addicted mother in the 2016 indie drama 'Moonlight.' "No Small Parts" takes a look at some other roles she's played in her career.


If you want my opinion, and you must want my opinion else you would be reading someone else's review.

My opinion is that MOONLIGHT is NOT the best movie of 2016. It is very slow moving [although the director might phrase it as "slow paced", and it is not a story that will appeal to most viewers in America. In a word, it's a dark and depressing tale literally about dark people living in a black slum in Miami; a tale about drug dealers, junkies, and homosexuals.

That being said, it is a film worth seeing; a story of down-trodden people striving to overcome the worst that life has dealt them, just to survive. It is well acted and well directed.

The story is divided into three time periods; the protagonist, Chiron as a child, then as a teen-ager, and finally as an adult.

Chiron is an abused child, abused by his drug addicted mother. At a time when he is beset by confusing emotions and is suffering deeply, his mother offers him no nurturing at all. So Chiron runs away from home and finds shelter in the backyard of the local drug dealer, Juan. Finding Chiron, Juan tries to find out who he is and where he lives. But Chiron refuses to speak. After a few days, under the emotional warmth that he receives from Juan's girl-friend, Teresa, Chiron tells her about his horrible home life. Juan feels sorry for the boy but realizes that aside from feeding Chiron and giving him some money, he has no other alternative than to bring the child back home to his mother.

As the film moves on, the audience learns that Chiron is gay. In a scene from the childhood sequence, Chiron asks Juan if he [Chiron] is a "fag". Juan asks Chiron if he knows what the word means but Chiron is not sure. Juan tells him, "It's a word that people use when they want to be mean to gay people."

The movie moves to the next sequence.., Chiron is now a high school teen. Hen has become a social outcast among his school peers. His only real friends are Juan and Teresa, who let him stay at their home from time to time when the pressure from his mother becomes too much. The mother is aware of Chiron's friendship with Juan and Teresa, and in a moment of desperation, she visits Juan and demands money from him. When Juan rebukes her, she, knowing that Juan has grown to love her child, taunts him about Chiron. Placing her hands on her hips and mincing, she says, "See how he stands? See how he walks?"

Kevin, his one school buddy, takes Chiron to the beach one night. As they smoke blunts, Kevin becomes amorous. Taking Chiron in his arms, he kisses him while manipulating his genitals. One assumes they now have a special bond. But the very next day in class, the school bully goads Kevin into punching Chiron in the face. Kevin is conflicted and doesn't want to do it but under peer pressure, and to prove that he is a man, he hits Chiron over and over when Chiron refuses to lie down. The next day, Chiron arrives in class late. He walks to the back of the room, and grabbing a chair by the legs, smashes the chair over the bully's head and back, unintentionally rendering him unconscious.

The final sequence shows us how Chiron has turned out as an adult man. It is the sequence in which resolutions must be reached; resolutions between Chiron and his mother and resolutions between him and Kevin. I will not divulge the events depicted in this final sequence but suffice to say, the audience will probably not be disappointed.

KUDOS to director and writer, Barry Jenkins, who has composed a difficult but timely tale of a young black man coming of age in a socially lower class culture in which homosexuality is frowned upon and in which an emotionally confused boy has to survive without the affection or support of his mother or peer group, and who has masterfully managed to present his story in an empathetic way.

KUDOS to Mahershala Ali as drug dealer, Juan, who carries much of the first half of the film.

KUDOS to Alex R. Hibbert as Chiron the child. He masterfully brings out the anger, resignation and pathos of a little person abused by his family and by his environment.

KUDOS to Ashton Sanders as teenage Chiron. He handles the transition of Chiron from victim to independent, self-assured man well.

KUDOS to Naomie Harris, in an emotionally challenging role of Paula, Chron's drug-addicted, self-absorbed mother. I hope we can see more of her in the near future. Naomie is a British actress but you would never know it if you are unfamiliar with her. She played voodoo witch Tia Dalma in the second and third Pirates Of The Caribbean films.
Her performance in Moonlight earned her nominations for several Best Supporting Actress awards, including the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and the Academy Award. She was also appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to drama.

In his own January 2017 review, A_Different_Drummer offers the following praise:
"In this mesmerizing film, special attention has to go to two actors who steal every scene they are in and silently promise the viewer that the long and bountiful careers ahead of them will deliver even better performances down the road. I am referring first to Mahershala Ali, whose magnetic presence made him the centerpiece of Luke Cage (where he competes with, and surpasses, actors with much greater experience). If you watch this actor closely, not only is he in the moment, but his body seems to be in constant motion even when he is sitting still. Like a hummingbird. Awesome to behold and although he has been lately playing characters of "dubious morality" one gets the feeling he could play a hero just as easily. And then there is the performance of Naomie Harris, a performance so strong and memorable that I began to recall that, in the Golden Age of films, they used to refer to performances like hers as 'searing' -- but lately I have not seen the term used very often in a review. So in honor of Ms. Harris I will say for the record that her performance in this film -- with minimal screen time -- is searing and unforgettable."

Even MW Berger, who in his February, 2017 highly negative review, said:
"I will still give the movie a 3 because it is not a disaster, the acting is decent and I appreciate the director didn't want to show another story of a white and privileged man."

My own final comment on Moonlight is that this may be a film which you have already decided not to see as originally I had decided the same. But I did see it to fullfill the request of my friend, Judy, while I was recently in New York City. If you are a sensitive soul and enjoy well done movies, you wont be disappointed.

Did You Know?

The second song that plays in the Diner is "Hello Stranger" by Barbara Lewis. Director Barry Jenkins made the decision to actually play the song on the jukebox in the background while they were filming.
Barry Jenkins became the first African-American helmer of a 'Best Picture' Academy Award winning feature. The first black helmer to win was the British director Steve McQueen.
When Juan teaches Little how to swim, Mahershala Ali is really teaching Alex R. Hibbert how to swim. When production started, Hibbert did not know how to swim.
In an interview, Barry Jenkins said that the three actors who play Chiron never met during production. He wanted each of them to build their own persona of Chiron during their respective segments, with no influence from the other portrayals. The same technique was used with the actors who play Kevin.
The film is based on the unproduced play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by MacArthur Fellow Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Director Barry Jenkins' favorite scene in his film was an impromptu sequence of Paula (Naomie Harris) staring straight into the camera overcranked at 48fps. This was a last-minute decision by Jenkins specifically intended to fully engage the audience with Paula's character.
Like Chiron, director Barry Jenkins also had a mother who suffered from addiction.
When first approached, Naomie Harris was very reluctant to play a crack addict since it was so alien to her teetotaling persona. Harris had been insistent from the start on a career plan to only portray women in a positive light. However, when Barry Jenkins confided to her that she'd be portraying a character based on his own crack-addicted mother, she agreed to take on the role. In preparation for the part she spent a month researching the lives of drug addicts by watching several videos of crack addicts on YouTube.
Mahershala Ali is the first person of Muslim faith win the Academy Award for acting.
This is the first LGBT film, and the first film featuring an all black cast, to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
During an interview, director Barry Jenkins mentioned that the idea of using the song Every N*gger Is A Star by Boris Gardiner came from a sample from Kendrick Lamars album To Pimp A Butterfly which starts with a sample of the original song.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for tabulating the results, preparing awards envelopes and handing them to presenters apologized unreservedly to the makers of La La Land (2016) and Moonlight (2016), as well as everyone involved, after an envelope mix-up caused the former to be incorrectly announced as Best Picture: "We sincerely apologize to Moonlight (2016), La La Land (2016), Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. [sic] We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."
Both Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe also appear in Hidden Figures (2016). Both films were released on the same year and both were nominees for Best Picture.
When the time came to present Best Picture at the The 89th Annual Academy Awards (2017) (the last award of the ceremony), presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were mistakenly handed the wrong envelope backstage. Beatty held a duplicate envelope for the category Best Actress in a Leading Role (which was announced just minutes before and was won by Emma Stone for La La Land (2016)) in his hands while presenting the nominees for Best Picture. When Beatty opened the envelope, apparently becoming aware of the mistake, he hesitated to announce a winner. He then handed the card to Dunaway who announced the heavily favored La La Land (2016) as the winner for Best Picture. The three nominated producers Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt and Fred Berger as well as the whole cast and crew of the film went up on stage. Horowitz gave his thanks first, up next was Platt during whose speech the mistake became known when the ceremony's producers ran through the crowd on stage looking for the faulty as well as correct envelopes. It became clear that Horowitz was handed the wrong envelope by Beatty, which stated "Emma Stone, La La Land, Best Actress in a Leading Role", upon accepting the award, while the right envelope announcing Moonlight (2016) as the real Best Picture winner had to be brought on-stage from backstage and was finally handed to Beatty. The crowd on stage became slowly aware of the mistake and, despite being already aware of the not winning, Berger still gave a speech thanking his family and ending his speech by stating "We lost by the way, but, you know." Horowitz, also being told about the mistake, stepped up to the microphone again and finally revealed to the public that Moonlight (2016) actually had won, showing the correct Best Picture card to the audience as well as the camera. Beatty additionally cleared up that he was handed the wrong envelope and also announced Moonlight (2016) as winner of Best Picture. After this announcement, the cast and crew of La La Land (2016) slowly left the stage, while the three producers handed their awards over to the team from Moonlight (2016), which was able to finally give their speeches. While there already was an mix-up of winners at the Oscars in 1964, when Sammy Davis Jr. announced the winners for the two categories Scoring of Music (adaptation or treatment) and Music Score (substantially original) and was handed the envelopes for the two categories interchanged (eventually announcing John Addison as the winner for Best Scoring of Music when he wasn't even nominated in that category (André Previn was the actual winner, while Addison was the winner in the Music Score category)), Beatty and Dunaway's snafu remains the only time in Oscar history that a person or film was announced as a winner, when they actually weren't.

When Chiron dreams about Kevin after their phone call, they have not seen each other since high school and yet Kevin is portrayed as an adult. Chiron would not know what adult Kevin looks like.
The Metrorail in Miami doesn't go near the beach.
When Juan drives Little around, modern cars can be seen driving in front of them.
When Juan drops off Little at his home CD discos are shown in the car.

Little: [innocently] What's a faggot?
Juan: A faggot is... a word used to make gay people feel bad.
Little: Am I a faggot?
Juan: No. You're not a faggot. You can be gay, but you don't have to let nobody call you a faggot.
Black: [to Kevin] You the only man that's ever touched me.
[long pause]
Black: You're the only one.
[long pause]
Black: I haven't really touched anyone since.
Kevin: Who is you man?
Black: Who, me?
Kevin: Yeah nigga. You. Them fronts? That car? Who is you Chiron?
Black: I'm me man. Ain't trying to be nothing else.
Kevin: So you hard now?
Black: I ain't say that.
Kevin: Then what?
Kevin: Look. I'm not trying hem you up. Just... I ain't seen you in a minute. Not what I expected, none of it. Not good or bad. Just not what I expected.
Black: Well, what did you expect?
Kevin: You remember the last time I saw you?
Black: For a long time, tried not to remember. Tried to forget all those times. The good... the bad. All of it.
Kevin: Yeah. I know.
Juan: I saw your mama last night.
Little: I hate her.
Juan: I bet you do.
Juan: Hated mine too.
Juan: Miss her like hell now. All I'm gonna say about that.
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Paula: You ain't got to love me, but you gonna know that I love you.
Little: Do you sell drugs?
Juan: Yeah.
Little: Does my mom buy drugs from you?
Juan: Yeah.
[Little gets up from the table and leaves]
Paula: I need some money.
Chiron: For what?
Paula: That's my business! Don't you ask me no shit like that!
Chiron: [mumbling] I don't have any money.
Paula: No, no, don't lie to me boy! I'm your mama! That bitch over there ain't no kin yeah? I'm your blood! Remember?
Paula: I ain't feeling good. I need something to help me out.
Paula: [sobbing] Come on baby. Come on baby.
Paula: [to Juan] You ever see the way he walk? You're gonna tell him why the other boys kick his ass all the time?
Kevin (16): Man, you don't smoke. Why you pretending'? You puttin' on a show for me Black?
Chiron: Why you keep calling me that?
Kevin (16): Black? That's my nickname for you. You don't like it?

Every Nigger Is a Star Written by Boris Gardiner & Barrington Gardiner Performed by Boris Gardiner Remix by Dennis "DEZO" Williams Courtesy of Now-Again Records, LLC obo Jazzman Records LTD.
Little's Theme Written by Nicholas Britell
Ride Home Written by Nicholas Britell
The Middle of the World Written by Nicholas Britell
The Spot Written by Nicholas Britell
Interlude Written by Nicholas Britell
Chiron's Theme Written by Nicholas Britell
Metrorail Closing Written by Nicholas Britell
Chiron's Theme Chopped & Screwed (Knock Down Stay Down) Written by Nicholas Britell
You Don't Even Know Written by Nicholas Britell
Don't Look at Me Written by Nicholas Britell
Atlanta Ain't but So Big Written by Nicholas Britell
Chef's Special Written by Nicholas Britell
Who Is You? Written by Nicholas Britell
End Credits Suite Written by Nicholas Britell
The Culmination Written by Nicholas Britell
It'll All Be Over Written by Leonard Sanders Performed by Supreme Jubilees Courtesy of Light In The Attic Records
Laudate Dominum from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K. 339 Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Conducted by Nicholas Britell Courtesy of Lake George Entertainment LLC
One Step Ahead Written by Charles Singleton & Eddie Snyder Performed by Aretha Franklin Courtesy of Columbia Records By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
Mini Skirt Written by Sam Knott Performed by The Performers Courtesy of The Numero Group By Arrangement with Bank Robber Music
Cell Therapy Written by Robert Barnett, Khujo (as Willie Knighton), Cameron Gipp, Ray Murray (as Raymon Murray), Sleepy Brown (as Patrick Brown), Rico Wade, CeeLo Green (as Thomas Callaway) Performed by Goodie Mob Courtesy of RCA Records By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
Tyrone Written by Erykah Badu (as Erica Wright) & Norman Hurt Performed by Erykah Badu Courtesy of Motown Records under license from Universal Music Enterprises
Play That Funk Written by Prez P (as Hemsley F. Turenne Jr.) and Travis Bowe Performed by Prez P and Travis Bowe Courtesy of Pandemonium/ Da Campsite
Tumbling Down Written by Langston George and Charles French Performed by Langston & French of The Numero Group By Arrangement with Bank Robber Music
Cucurrucucú Paloma Written by Tomás Méndez (as Tomás Méndez Sosa) Performed by Caetano Veloso Courtesy of Universal International Music, B.V. Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
Classic Man Written by Charli XCX (as Charlotte Emma Aitchison), George Astasio, Nate 'Rocket' Wonder (as Nathaniel Irvin III), Roman GianArthur Irvin, Iggy Azalea (as Amethyst Amelia Kelly), Kurtis McKenzie (as Kurtis Isaac McKenzie), Jidenna (as Jidenna T. Mobisson), Jason Pebworth (as Jason Andrew Pebworth), Jasbir Singh Sehra, Jon Shave (as Jonathan Christopher Shave), Eleanor Kateri Tannis, Nana Kwabena Tuffuor, John Turner, Milan Wiley Performed by Jidenna feat. Roman GianArthur Irvin (as Roman GianArthur) Courtesy of Wondaland/Epic Records By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
Our Love Written by Cornelius Cade Performed by The Edge of Daybreak Courtesy of The Numero Group By Arrangement with Bank Robber Music
Hello Stranger Written by Barbara Lewis Performed by Barbara Lewis Warner-Tamerlan Publishing Corp. (BMI) Courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp. By Arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mahershala Ali ... Juan
Shariff Earp ... Terrence
Duan Sanderson ... Azu (as Duan 'Sandy' Sanderson)
Alex R. Hibbert ... Little (as Alex Hibbert)
Janelle Monáe ... Teresa
Naomie Harris ... Paula
Jaden Piner ... Kevin age 9
Herman 'Caheei McGloun ... Longshoreman (as Herman 'Caheej' McCloun)
Kamal Ani-Bellow ... Portable Boy 1
Keomi Givens ... Portable Boy 2
Eddie Blanchard ... Portable Boy 3
Rudi Goblen ... Gee
Ashton Sanders ... Chiron
Edson Jean ... Mr. Pierce
Patrick Decile ... Terrel
Herveline Moncion ... Samantha
Jharrel Jerome ... Kevin age 16
Fransley Hyppolite ... Pizzo
Jesus Mitchell ... Old School Guard
Larry Anderson ... Antwon
Tanisha Cidel ... Principal Williams
Trevante Rhodes ... Black
Stephon Bron ... Travis
André Holland ... Kevin
Don Seward ... Tip

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