After its festival premiere this past weekend, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is already entering into Oscar predictions for the end of the year. The Telluride premiere generated resounding praise among critics, many calling it a vital and mesmerizing picture of the African American experience.
Telling the story of Chiron in three phases of his life, Moonlight follows the development of manhood, sexuality, and African American culture within the modern American landscape. Based on the Alvin McCraney play In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue, the plot sees Chiron struggle to deal with his homosexuality while surviving a troubled childhood rife with a drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later) and a crack dealing surrogate father (Mahershala Ali, The Hunger Games series). Singer Janelle Monae makes her feature debut in the film that also stars newcomer Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders (Straight Outta Compton), Trevonte Rhodes (Westworld), and Andre Holland (Selma).
Critics across the board have praised Jenkins for his skillful examination of the American black experience, making his character study rich, nuanced, and without stereotype. The filmmaker presents identity, sexuality, and masculinity in complex and subtle ways. The result, according to reviews, is a powerful and timely film deserving of awards contention.
Moonlight may sound like an audience specific movie that could possibly fizzle out once the year’s prestige pictures make their debut later in the year, but distributor A24 has a lot of faith in this film. Jenkin’s feature may fare similarly to last year’s Room – many doubted the dark indie’s staying power in awards talks, but the A24 feature beat out suspicion and won Brie Larson a Best Actress win as well as Director and Best Picture nominations. Also based on indie surprises like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood or last year’s Carol, Jenkins’ Moonlight likely has a good chance to reach the appropriate audiences come nominations time.
Moonlight will play at the Toronto, New York, and London film festivals before hitting theaters on October 21. See the film’s trailer below.