ACS Screening: Moonlight

If you haven’t seen it yet, ACS is hosting a screening of this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture: Moonlight. The film became the first LGBT film to win the award and made Mahershala Ali the first Muslim to be recognised by the Academy in an acting category. Even more so than its success however, it is the story itself which is ground breaking and gives a voice to a too often silenced community.

From its opening shot Moonlight intrigues and envelops the audience in its intimate and heart breaking portrait of a young black boy’s coming of age and the vulnerability of his masculinity and sexuality within his community. The long fluid shots allow the film to linger on its characters and their relationships, and to draw out their inner selves as opposed to the external image which they present. When shot from behind, the unknowability of the films central character Chiron is instead emphasised and insights into his self are marked by more disjointed, and unsteady camera work.

The craft of the camera is matched with the perfect balance of sound, moving between natural breezes, glorious orchestral progressions, and striking silence which explicate the workings of Chiron’s mind. The audience are introduced to Chiron as a child, but the film is structured around the three stages of his life – child becoming teenager becoming adult – emphasising the different selves within the individual and tracing the difficulty of growth and development when self-exploration and experimentation are denied.

Chiron’s idea of self is fragile and complex, and often threatened provoking a retreat into solitude. His community shapes his perception of himself, encountering homophobic language before he understands his own homosexuality, and being taught masculine ideals which do not come naturally but eventually create a hyper masculine front serving as a form of self-defence.

The continuity of character through the different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) playing Chiron is impressive, especially given that the three actors were not allowed to meet during filming; but it is the nuances in their performances which underpin the films exploration of different selves. The supporting cast are equally compelling: Mahershala Ali’s father figure in the form of conflicted drug dealer Juan is another complex insight into masculinity and identity, and Naomie Harris’ drug addicted mother is made far more than a stereotype of a broken home. Together they represent the role which parents play in the shaping of an individual, and they offer humanised perspectives on the realities of impoverished, marginalised communities.

But director Barry Jenkins chose not to emphasise the characters’ marginalisation, rather the universal nature of their stories despite how personal they are. He makes a bold statement with his film, but he does so in a way which is unique and resists traditional methods of storytelling and the expected language of poverty and despondency.

The result is beautiful and moving, and each shot and every scene is instilled with care and passion and purpose. The film is not afraid to linger, to be still and to allow poignancy to grow without being forced. But most striking is the films insistence on truthfulness – to story, to vision, to character, and to self. Moonlight’s closing scene recalls the exuberance, pain, longing, loneliness, desire, and relief which resonate at different points throughout the film. But the final feeling is one of freedom, and of a long-awaited embracing of one’s true self.

For more information on ACS’s screening this Tuesday:

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