A truly unique cinematic achievement, Moonlight is a remarkably powerful film anchored by mesmerizing performances that heartbreakingly convey the extreme hardships of a struggling young man in the slums of Miami. Divided into three distinct parts, the movie is comprised of a series of vignettes following the main character Chiron as he grows up as a black child living in extreme poverty with a drug-addicted mother, played by the dynamic Naomie Harris. We first meet him as a shy child trying to find his place on the tough streets of Miami and eventually finds a father figure in a local drug dealer. Played by Mahershala Ali of House of Cards fame, Juan is a black Cuban who, although a drug dealer that supplies drugs to Chiron’s mother, treats Chiron with great care and respect. Juan takes him under his wing and teaches him how to survive on the streets in addition to more fatherly things like how to swim. Throughout the course of his life, Chiron must cope with living rather independently without a present father and with a self-destructive mother. The next part follows Chiron as a teenager who must deal with violent bullies at school and questions himself as a homosexual surrounded by a hyper-masculine culture. He begins to fall in love with a classmate he has grown up with who is also secretly gay. The final chapter flashes forward almost a decade at a time that Chiron tries to make a life for himself and largely patterned after Juan. However, after encountering someone from his past, portrayed by André Holland, he begins to come to terms with who he really is and is faced with changing his life for the better. What makes the film so special is the filmmaker’s evocative storytelling that makes the audience empathize with a young black gay man growing up in an impoverished crime-ridden American neighborhood. It is a vastly under-represented story in the media and entertainment industry that needs to be told. From a cinematic perspective, the movie is beautiful shot and full of richly dramatic scenes that linger in raw emotion heightened by terrific acting. It feels very much like an independent film that does not rely on big action and creates a reflective atmosphere partly through its use of a subtle yet operatic-like musical score. Overall, I found it to be a transcendent movie with the capability of changing people’s views on the especially timely social issues facing black America and those struggling largely in the dark against unimaginable odds. The film is by far one of the best of the year and is worthy of Oscar buzz for its sheer filmmaking brilliance.

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