ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

Moonlight, this year's major contender for Best Picture next to La La Land, strikes as one of the most personal and intimate films of the year. The story of a young boy named Chiron, struggling with his identity, sexuality and place in the world, follows him all the way to adulthood in three main chapters, alternatively punctuated with moments of utter violence and charming tenderness.

It comes as no surprise, then, that is in part autobiographical — but it doesn't draw only from the experience of its director . The screenplay is adapted from a play titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who partly based the story on his life but never actually brought it to the stage. In an interview with The Fader, he discusses Jenkins's adaptation of his work, the inspiration behind it, and why he didn't choose cinema.

'This Is My Everyday Life'

One of the most powerful things about Moonlight is that it feels like a dive into a world that's all too real and not portrayed often enough in cinema; a tough everyday life of navigating between bullying at school, drug abuse at home and crime on the streets, but also a deeply personal journey of finding a voice and an identity. It's because both for Jenkins and McCraney, the inspiration came from personal experience:

"I was exposed to these incredible art programs. A lot of them don't exist anymore, but I was lucky enough to be introduced to these programs that were free and wanted kids involved. I didn't know right away that I could tell stories through them; I was just telling the stories I knew, and then I found that a lot of people kept saying things like, 'We've never heard this before' or 'A drug dealer teaching a kid how to ride a bike? That's a crazy idea.' And I'm thinking, This is my everyday life."

'Moonlight' [Credit: A24]
'Moonlight' [Credit: A24]

As he explains, he and the director grew up mere blocks away in Liberty City, Miami, which is why it was ideal that one would continue the work of the other.

"Everything is personal but I wasn't literally writing down moments from my life. Moonlight is one of the few pieces based on actual events; there are scenes in the movie that happened — the words and the scenario and the person, those things happened. And then there are parts that never happened to me and some of it happened to Barry."

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Film Was The Perfect Medium To Bring 'Moonlight' To Life

In fact, Jenkins not only contributed his own experience of growing up in Miami — McCraney believes that the fact that he brought the story from play to film also enhanced it. Though he prefers theater for its "community aspect," he agrees that the visual dimension of the story wasn't adapted to a performance on stage:

"I think 'Moonlight' captures the story in a way I never could have imagined. [...] I shelved it because I was like, This won't work as a play, it's way too visual and too intimate in the characters and I didn't have time to invent the world for the form. [Eventually] the Borscht Film Festival gave it to Barry, who I had not met but we grew up four blocks away from each other."

From its Wong Kar-wai homage to its unique sweeping camera motions, Moonlight has a visual language of its own, one that adds the necessary texture to the raw emotional and physical experiences of the main character, Chiron. There's no question it earned its Best Cinematography nomination, and it'd even deserve a win:

"Barry created something I couldn't even imagine, that feels even more real than what I'd written down. It's so beautiful, and yet it's full of all the questions and the doubt and the guilt and the longing and the loneliness that was the impetus for the original piece."

That Jenkins managed to bring his own voice to the movie while also honoring the original work it's based on is just one of the reasons Moonlight is a true masterpiece.

Which movie do you think will win Best Picture at the Oscars? Which movie would you like to see win?

'Moonlight' [Credit: A24]
'Moonlight' [Credit: A24]

(Source: The Fader)


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