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Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris.

Moonlight is a harrowing exploration of the difficulties a young man experiences in understanding his sexuality and identity, winning multiple awards and critical acclaim for the stunningly beautiful, textured manner in which it explores such a challenging and charged subject. The film is based on an unpublished, semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

 

The film presents three stages in the life of the main character, exploring the difficulties he faces with his sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he endures growing up. We meet him as ‘Little’, a withdrawn child who is befriended by drug dealer Juan (Ali), who becomes the first strong, positive male role model the youngster has.

 

In the second phase, Little – now going by his given name, Chiron – is still avoiding bullies, both at home and at school. One night, Chiron and his best friend, Kevin, have an innocent encounter on the beach – their actions finally giving flight to the feelings that the words they were too scared to speak, couldn’t express. Shortly after, Kevin is coerced by bully Terrell into punching Chiron in front of the whole school, setting in motion a chain of events which will alter Chiron’s future.

 

In the third phase, Chiron is going by the nickname ‘Black’, and has become a drug dealer in Juan’s mould. One day, Kevin calls him out of the blue – the first conversation they’ve had since the incident at the school. The pair meet up and attempt to reconcile, their feelings for – and about – each other, still clearly very strong.

 

Moonlight was responsible for a number of firsts – and not just because of the way it examined the powerful relationship between two men in a culture that shuns homosexuality, in the mainstream. It became the first film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film, and the second lowest-grossing film in US box office history (behind The Hurt Locker) to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar – for Best Supporting Actor – and the film's editor, Joi McMillon, became the first black woman to be nominated for an editing Oscar (alongside co-editor Nat Sanders). It also won for Best Adapted Screenplay.

 

Its Best Picture win will go down as one of the most infamous in Academy Awards history, after presenter Warren Beatty was incorrectly handed an envelope naming La La Land as the category winner, before producer Jordan Horowitz became aware of the error while acceptance speeches were being made and stepped forward to announce that Moonlight was indeed the winner.

 

Jenkins, just the fourth director of colour to be nominated for an Oscar, came across McCraney’s play and was immediately drawn to it because he saw it as “a visceral collection of memories” and “a fever dream”. The fact that it had never been performed gave him a blank slate to create something special, based in no small part to his and McCraney’s shared experience of growing up in one of Miami’s toughest areas, with his own drug addict mother serving as inspiration for Naomie Harris’ role in the film. 

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