Review: ‘Moonlight’ Shows the Power of Identity

Awards season is in full swing, which means that many critically-acclaimed films are vying to win top awards. One film that stands out from the pack is Moonlight, an independent film that has been accumulating critical acclaim and significant award recognition. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Moonlight is for sure, one of the best films to have been released in 2016.


Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young black man growing up in the Liberty City section of Miami. The story is separated into three chapters:  “Little”, “Chiron”, and “Black”. The three chapters focus on Chiron as a little boy, a teenager, and an adult man. Chiron struggles with his sexuality, starting at a young age. His peers see him as different, and mercilessly bully him, for just being himself. He lives with his crack-addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris), and he meets a kind drug dealer (Marshala Ali) who tries to help him with the internal conflict he faces at a young age.

Alex Hibbert and Marshala Ali in the ocean in a scene from Moonlight.

Alex Hibbert as Chiron & Marshala Ali as Juan

Ultimately, as the film progresses Chiron further folds into himself, afraid to embrace his true identity through fear of rejection and judgement. The audience watch Chiron develop from a quiet, sensitive boy, into a hardened man.


Ashton Sanders in a scene from Moonlight.

Ashton Sanders as Chiron

Moonlight can be best described as an insightful look on how the circumstances you’re born into affect identity. It is a powerful film that subtly tells an important message. Director Barry Jenkins’ direction and script keeps the story fluid, and interesting. The impeccable film editing done by editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders  further enhance the moving story.

Moonlight is comprised of an ensemble cast featuring Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Marshala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. Naomie Harris shines as Paula, Chiron’s crack-addict mother. She delivers the raw anger and resentment Paula feels towards her son, while also presenting a broken woman who has lost control over life. Not once is Harris over-the-top or too much; she makes Paula real, and eerily natural. The three actors that portray Chiron (Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes) at the different stages of his life all bring a quiet intensity that is palpable all throughout the film. Finally, Marshala Ali gives drug dealer Juan a warm kindness that makes you forget his occupation.

Naomie Harris smoking a cigarette in a scene from Moonlight.

Naomie Harris as Paula

Moonlight is a moving story about the struggle to embrace your true identity. If features a diverse cast of talented actors, who help bring such an important story to life. If you can, see it, you won’t regret it.

Moonlight is currently in theaters.