Gritty, endearing ‘Moonlight’ climbs quickly in Toronto
There’s a new critical darling in town.
At Toronto International Film Festival, festgoers are trading lists of what they’ve seen, liked and loved. One query often heard: “Have you seen Moonlight?”
“It’s clear that the busy, creaky machinery of Oscar season — driven by journalists and frequently set in motion at festivals like Toronto and Telluride — has already begun to grind in the movie’s favor,” wrote Los Angeles
Times film critic Justin Chang.
Co-produced by Brad Pitt,
Moonlight is a coming-of-age story adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s biographical play and directed by Barry Jenkins ( Medicine for Melancholy). The film, which unfolds in three chapters, follows the journey of an impoverished African-American child named Chiron growing up in the projects of Miami.
The first finds skinny 10-yearold Chiron (Alex Hibbert), nicknamed “Little,” relentlessly bullied and left to fend for himself by his crack addict mother (Naomie Harris), until he meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who takes him under his wing. Then comes the second chapter with Chiron at 16 (Ashton Sanders), tormented by his classmates and coming to terms with being gay. Finally, a decade later, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is shown as an adult remade into a formidable drug dealer himself.
At the film’s gala debut Saturday, the audience gave a rousing standing ovation. During the Q&A that followed, Ali wiped away tears as McCraney said his performance brought back memories of the real drug dealer who helped him learn to ride a bike as a child. “I miss that drug dealer dearly. To sit with him for 45 minutes (onscreen) is a gift,” McCraney said.
Chiron and Juan’s relationship “speaks to who black people have access to in the neighborhoods,” Ali told USA TODAY. “I’m not going to say a drug dealer is the best role model, but mentors can come in all shapes and sizes. And the fact that this particular person had enough empathy in his heart to reach out and help this young man is something that really inspired me as an actor.” The Moon
light script blew Ali away. “There are so many young black boys who just don’t have father figures, for a myriad of reasons,” he said. “To be able to play somebody who was so supportive of him just hits a place in my heart.”
Harris acknowledged that the absentee mother was a tough role to sign on for. “I had real issues with taking on the character,” the English actress said at the Q&A. “I always said I was only going to portray positive images of black women. I drew the line at playing a crack addict. But then I read this incredible script that moved me so much. ... I realized I had so much judgment about what it means to be a crack addict. With any form of addiction, there’s a beating heart underneath it.” Critics are swooning, with Roll
ing Stone deeming it a “masterpiece.” It hits theaters Oct. 21.
Mahershala Ali teaches Alex Hibbert, floating, about more than swimming in Moonlight.