When we talk about Best Picture Oscar winners, we often talk about who the movies are for — what audience do they serve? Who do they uplift? How do they reflect us back to ourselves?
Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ beautiful “Moonlight” might appear to be specific in the kind of story it tells and the audience it serves, but appearances are deceiving — the drama carries universal and human themes that make it more than worthy of the Academy’s highest honor.
It could be suggested that “Moonlight” is niche because of its subject matter — the struggle of a boy (and later a teenager, then grown man) to accept his homosexuality in a framework of unforgiving African-American masculinity.
Gender, sex, socioeconomics and addiction all figure into the protagonist’s painful battle for self acceptance, as stars Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes take turns playing Chiron in three stages of his life.
It’s the kind of intersectional (read more about that concept here) storytelling that the Academy and industry have been criticized for not including among Oscar nominees. The outcry is recent, but the exclusion of these stories is as old as the industry itself.
The nearly 140 minutes of “Moonlight” provide some long-overdue narratives, but the film also poses hefty existential questions in the way only good movies can.
Among them: Can I love myself as I am? Do I deserve the love of others in kind? What, if anything, will ever rescue me from the past?
These are the deepest threads in “Moonlight.” It’s obviously important to salute the film for its sorely needed representation of minorities, and as a story Hollywood does not often tell or celebrate with awards.
But the heart of “Moonlight” is a portrait of humanity. It serves all of us. It uplifts all of us. If you don’t see some of yourself reflected back in “Moonlight,” you should take a closer look in the mirror.