There was a lot of drama at the 2017 Academy Awards when Moonlight upended La La Land for Best Picture of the Year. The Oscar was first presented to La La Land before it was announced that Moonlight was the actual winner. That mishap combined with the lack of nominations for black actors at the 2016 award ceremony drew a lot of negative attention to the Academy. As a film addressing themes such as bullying, drugs, and sexual orientation, Moonlight seems to share themes with some previous Academy Award winners and nominees.
Mahershala Ali won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his part in Moonlight, but the main character of the film, Chiron, is played by three actors (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) as they portray pivotal points in Chiron’s upbringing. The movie paints the picture of Chiron’s rough childhood in a single-parent home. Befriended by a drug dealer, ill-treated by his mother, and misunderstood by his teachers, Chiron is a victim of abandonment and bullying. Though Chiron’s drug-dealing role model and free-loving friend seem to break traditional relationships, they are the closest thing he has to family. The relationship that he has with Teresa, played by music artist Janelle Monet, is a type of stable, loving relationship that many children come to expect from family and friends. For Chiron, it’s literally one of a kind.
The film does a good job of contrasting certain scenes with classical music. A drug dealer’s day takes on a professionally tragic feel as a violin harmonizes to the organization of the distribution of illegal drugs, but a day spent with a mentor at the beach is beautifully accentuated with another classical piece. The range of the classical music, from beautiful to tragic, is largely determined by the scene being played out on screen as the audience interprets the music through the scene.
Overall, Moonlight is not a flashy film. It feels like a tragedy sparsely sprinkled with glimmers of hope. What Moonlight does do is show that people more highly respected by society at large are not always the people who will step up as role models or friends to those in need. Moonlight reminds the audience to avoid superficial judgments through examining not only people’s outward appearance but also the deeper context of their lives and the underlying aspects of their character.