Tonight I saw Moonlight, starring Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhode.
Chiron (played by all three actors mentioned above) is a kid living in the Florida projects. His father is absent and his mother is a crack addict. He is gay.
The kids at school mercilessly bully Chiron for his orientation, though he doesn't flaunt his sexuality or have boyfriends. After one particularly awful chase, he seeks refuge in a crack den where a kind older man finds him and takes him to his house in the suburbs. There he finds a sense of home with the man and his wife, though he later learns the man is one of his mother's drug dealers.
We follow Chiron at three stages of his life: youth, high school and adulthood. At each stage he's desperate to know how he's "supposed" to feel, confronted with the horror of simply being himself. At each stage his mother is a nightmare, alternating somewhere between remorseful and monster.
His self-esteem barely exists, but as he grows his rage becomes a powerful tool in combating the society that rejects him on so many levels. He doesn't make the best decisions, but how could he be expected to?
The film does a fantastic job of showing us how, here in America, there are still thousands, if not millions, of children who don't have a fighting chance. How in many communities there are divides of race and class that dictate one's place before they are old enough to speak. How in some places exposing your true self could cost you your life.
For such a heart-wrenching story, there were thankfully moments of relief: Chiron's kinship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), the tenderness shown by his 'adoptive' parents, the strength he finds within himself to somehow go on.
But I do think the film could have been shorter and less contrived; the pace was excruciatingly slow in certain scenes and the score a bit overbearing during a few of the most dramatic moments.
Still very much worth a watch, though. And sure to attract Oscar attention.