Review: “Moonlight on the Advancement of Cinema” by Willis Maritz

Making its debut in October of 2016, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is already considered by some as a masterpiece of modern American cinema as it has found success with both critics and the general audience. Within the film’s six Golden Globe nominations, it picked up the award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. The film received an impressive eight nominations for the Academy Awards; most notably Best Motion Picture, Best Achievement in Directing, and Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay of which it won three. In the 89th annual Academy Awards, Moonlight received the awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, and most notably beating the favorite La La Land and taking home Best Motion Picture. Beyond the awards and with greater importance, Moonlight is able to achieve something that the other eight Best Motion Picture nominated films lack the capability of doing, that is, aiding the advancement of cinema. This isn’t to say that Moonlight provides some revolutionary cinematic value or that the other eight lack any cinematic value but rather that Moonlight is representative of the bringing forth of modern cinematic movements, queer and black cinema, to the mainstream while still staying true to the cinematic narrative and aesthetic. Similarly, through its use of these two cinematic movements, the film is able to create statements and break boundaries within the topics of love and masculinity.

In terms of film, creating a revolutionary take on love is something that proves to be a difficult task as love lacks uniqueness to a nationality, age, or gender. The genre has been a staple of cinema from its conception and has been accentuated through the decades and cinematic movements and eras such Casablanca in Hollywood’s Golden Age or Jean-Luc Godard’s À Bout de Soufflé during French New Wave. However, it’s not impossible for a romantic film to receive critical acclaim for their attempt to do something new in the worn out genre such as Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Kar-Wai Wong’s (a director which heavily inspired Barry Jenkins) In the Mood for Love. It’s not as though Moonlight provides some fresh take on love through use of same-sex romance. Same-sex romance, though not as worn out as heterosexual romance, has a large presence in film, especially in more modern times, as shown in films such as Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, Kechiche’s La Vie d’Adèle, and Carol by Todd Haynes. So what is it that makes Moonlight important to cinema? The beauty of the film rather lies within the fact that it’s not a film about same-sex love; it’s simply a film about love as Chiron through all these years lingers on to his love of Kevin. Those more familiar with cinema can see the inspiration Jenkins draws from the Hong Kong Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai’s films In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express primarily as scenes in Moonlight are “stolen” from these films. The genius behind mimicking the narrative elements and mise-en-scène (visual composition of the film) of Kar-Wai Wong comes from the fact that he’s arguable one of, if not the best in the depiction of love on the screen. The film is able to somewhat revolutionize the depiction of love through showcasing masculinity within male homosexuality as it often carries the stigma of male femininity.

Moonlight, through use of character development and the connotation behind the character’s actions and dialogue as well as their background, highlights masculinity in a way few films have done before it. Within the film, the male characters include Chiron, Juan, Kevin, and to a lesser extent, Terrel. These four serve as the depiction of masculinity through different ways. Juan, the man who serves as a father figure to Chiron, is seen as somewhat of a leader within the community despite being a drug dealer and does the most in forming Little into Chiron and later into Black. Kevin, the man whom Chiron experiences his first and only experience of love with, serves as the depiction of being a ladies man despite obviously having some romantic feelings for Chiron. Terrel, the high school bully, portrays the nonsensical violence typically attributed to masculinity. These uses of masculinity are used in juxtaposition to the earlier mentioned stigma of femininity and add another layer of dimension to the film.

As a result of being able to pull the upset over the far less dimensional and cinematic La La Land, one may find the argument over the progression of the values of Hollywood difficult to combat. With the quasi-revolutionary narrative and cinematic achievement in Moonlight bringing it to the forefront of attention for followers of film, it’s expected for the film to further and strengthen the movements of queer and black cinema as they become more prevalent and begin to get the representation they deserve from the academy.