So much has happened between February and now — the growing list of White House firings, the Comey testimony, the ACA tug-of-war, Russia, Korea, Charlottesville, now the hurricane and the pardon in the same damn week — that the ceremony in which Moonlight won Best Picture seems like a faint, possibly nonexistent memory. We were only a couple months into 45’s presidency, bracing ourselves for what we couldn’t possibly imagine was coming.
That night, when La La Land was announced to be the winner, only to be rightfully dethroned by some sort of bizarre card-reading or brain-fart mishap, we’ll never really know, a statement was made that everyone needed to hear, and it was that Moonlight was the best piece of cinematic art made in 2016. The announcement mishap took away a good portion of Moonlight‘s time in the spotlight, but it didn’t take away the film’s power. Even as the news cycle has devolved into a depressing regurgitation of 45’s internet effluvia, it took Moonlight quite a bit of time to fade back into the film canon. It stood tall, proud and important leading up to the Oscars, and it continued that way for several months after. It is to movies what The Wire is to television — in the sense that everyone tells you that you should’ve seen it already because it’s that phenomenal. Barry Jenkins gave us a gift.
I certainly don’t want to detract from the graveness of recent headlines, but I can’t help but smile every time I remember that Moonlight won BP. It’s a shiny, tiny glimmer of hope from the art world that hovers above the utter disaster that is the political/social/meteorological/etc world we live in.
The three actors who play Chiron — Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes — synced their mannerisms and posture beautifully to portray him seamlessly throughout his life. It’s also a casting marvel, considering how similarly their mouths and eyes emote even as the character grows up. Chiron is an unlucky boy — he is gay in a very straight world and his mother (an unrecognizable Naomie Harris) is an addict in a very enabling world — but not so unlucky that he doesn’t come across a role model in drug-dealer Juan (national treasure Mahershala Ali). Juan and his girlfriend (Janelle Monae, who is and should be everywhere) fill in the stability blanks for him, and their love eases his mind and allows him to grow up to be himself, instead of his mother’s caretaker.
It’s a present-day story, but it’s beyond timeless. The soundtrack, composed by Nicholas Britell, is just one reason why — it doesn’t lean too heavily on current music, instead filling the busy scenes with graceful movement and leaving the simple ones alone to revel in their stillness. But the real timelessness is in the relationship between Chiron and his best friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and Andre Holland). We’ve all wanted someone we can’t have, and the cultural/sexual/emotional/otherwise tension between these two grows and magnifies at a heartbreaking, disjointed — real — pace. Chiron is as everyman as it gets.
Be on the right side of culture and see this movie, and then keep it there in your mind for when you need it. And hope Jenkins (and others) make more like it.