“Who is you, man?” might be the last question that Chiron, the protagonist of Barry Jenkins’ new film Moonlight, wants to hear. For a gay black man raised in the Miami projects, he’s spent years crafting the mask that enables his survival, tenuous as it may be.
Moonlight, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, is a necessary invigoration of queer and black cinema—it is a film that many believed could never exist, and cinema is better for it.
The story is built like a tree. Each part in the three-act structure becomes a new ring in the trunk, thickening the layers of Chiron’s armor with each time jump. In the first act, “Little,” we meet Chiron as a nine-year-old, played with precocity and wisdom by Alex Hibbert. Chiron’s world is first introduced through Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer who discovers Chiron in a boarded-up drug den after the boy is chased by schoolyard bullies. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) offer Chiron a home-cooked meal and some familial love, an escape from the growing volatility of his crack-addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris) and the homophobia he encounters from his peers.
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