Student explains the importance of “Moonlight” in film and society as a whole
This year holds many firsts for the Academy Awards. It is the first time a black actor or actress has been nominated in every single acting category and the first time three black actors have been nominated in the same category. These firsts, and many other reasons, are why “Moonlight” deserves best picture.
W magazine reports that it is also the first time two black writers, Barry Jenkins and August Wilson, have been nominated and the first time a black woman, Joi McMillon, has been nominated for editing. Barry Jenkins is also the first black man to secure best screenplay, best director, and best picture nominations.
Many of these firsts can be associated with the film “Moonlight.” Joi McMillon is the film’s editor. Barry Jenkins is the film’s director and screenwriter. “Moonlight” also contributed to the acting categories with the nomination of Mahershala Ali for best supporting actor.
In Variety, Jenkins described these victories as “bittersweet.” He said, “It’s 2017. There should be no room for firsts anymore.”
“Moonlight” started as a small, independent film that premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. After the festival, it earned a limited release which became a wide release in November after the film performed well at the box office and started gaining award season buzz.
“Moonlight,” however, is not just a successful independent film. It is also a film with heart that tells an important and timely story. It follows Chiron’s (the main character) coming of age story as he grapples with being poor, gay, and black in the Miami projects. The film is deeply grounded in the development of its characters, especially Chiron, who ages from boy to teenager to man over the course of the film. The dialogue is crisp, the cinematography is lyrical, and the entire film is subtle in a way that is incredibly poignant.
The film also makes great use of its setting by employing the beach to represent an escape from Chiron’s reality during the now-famous swimming lesson scene and several other moments. At some moments, it feels as if Chiron could vanish and no one would notice. The jump from teenager to adult emphasizes this feeling, showing the audience everyone who adult Chiron has lost contact with. This jump makes his reunion with his mother and Kevin, his best friend, especially potent.
This story is incredibly powerful and its themes of sexuality, maturation and race give the film a larger, real world context that is missing from some of the other best picture contenders, particularly “La La Land.” While technically strong, “La La Land” is a story steeped in nostalgia and the magic of Hollywood. It is a love letter to the film industry, whereas “Moonlight” is something more. It honors several groups of people who do not normally get a lot of screen time. It also tells a story about race and gender that all Americans need to hear.
Ever since I saw the film over Thanksgiving break, “Moonlight” has stuck with me. As America tries to silence minority voices, “Moonlight” speaks. Even though its voice is soft, it is difficult to ignore. A best picture win would encourage even more people to seek out this film. “La La Land” is not interested in representing America’s diverse reality. “Moonlight” is.
There are many things I would like to see happen at the Oscars this year. I would love to see only people of color take home the best acting prizes. I would love to see Viola Davis win, especially since she’s the first woman of color to receive three nominations. I want to see the women of “Hidden Figures” honored in some way for their good work. I want to see “Moonlight” run away with dozens of awards, but mostly I want to see it take home best picture.
Aside from being truly the best film of the year, it is a film that deserves to represent both a diverse America and a diverse award show season. If you are able, see “Moonlight.” Even if it does not garner the Oscar, it is worth your time.
Courtney DuChene is a junior English and media and communication studies major. She is also a film studies minor and in her spare time she serves as a resident advisior.