Posted on October 27, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: NR (some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout)
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Bullies, beating, disturbing images, sad offscreen death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia
Date Released to Theaters: October 28, 2016
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2017 ASIN: B01LTHZVM4
Copyright 2016 Plan B Entertainment
Copyright 2016 Plan B Entertainment

In the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture, a man tells a young boy a story, and, as with many stories adults tell children, especially in movies, it is a story with a purpose. Juan (Mahershala Ali) tells the boy derisively known as “Little” (Alex Hibbert) that when he was young, a woman saw him at night and told him that the silvery moonlight made his dark skin looked blue. She said he should be called Blue from then on. But, he tells Little, he wasn’t. “At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

In “Moonlight,” a film of a delicate, shimmering beauty that measures up to the title, the boy will struggle to make that decision for himself. Three chapters, as a child, a teenager and a young man, played by three different actors, are labeled with three different names that he is called: the taunting nickname Little, his birth certificate name Chiron (played by Ashton Sanders), and the nickname given to him by someone who had a profound impact on him, Black (played by Trevante Rhodes). Who will he decide to be?

The story begins in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. Little runs from bullies and hides out in a crack house, where he is discovered by Juan, a kind-hearted drug dealer. Little won’t talk, so Juan takes him home, where his warmhearted significant other, Teresa (singer Janelle Monae) gives little some food and lets him stay the night. The next day, Juan brings Little back to his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), a nurse who loves Little but leaves him alone much of the time. “He can take care of hisself. He good like that.”

In the second section, he is a skinny teenager all but abandoned by his mother, who has become addicted to drugs, and bullied at school. He still does not talk much, but he has one friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who calls him Black. Chiron cannot even acknowledge to himself that he wants more from Kevin, but one night on the beach, they share a piercingly sweet moment of tenderness that will indirectly lead to an act of violence.

When we see him again, he is a man, with an armor of muscle and gold teeth grillz, still almost silent, still almost isolated. But a call from Kevin inspires a journey.

The film is based on a play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by McArthur awardee Tarell Alvin McCraney, who worked with director Barry Jenkins (the lovely romance “Medicine for Melancholy”) on adapting it for the screen. Both McCraney and Jenkins, like Little, had mothers who struggled with addiction, and Jenkins grew up on the Liberty City setting of the film.

The small miracle of the movie is the way it subverts the expectations the audience has based on news reports and many, many other movies. Every character is authentically complex. The graceful, poetic score by composer Nicholas Britell gives the story epic scope and heartbreaking intimacy.

We see Juan’s kindness and wisdom as he holds Little gently in the ocean, teaching him to swim and, more important, giving him an idea of what a man can be. We hear his thoughtful answer when Little asks him what “faggot” means. And yet, when Paula wants drugs, Juan supplies them, even knowing what it will do to Little. The confident, capable Kevin casually mentions time in prison as though it was an inevitable rite of passage. Little/Chiron/Black is physically transformed from chapter to chapter. We are continually challenged and confounded, yet held close to the heart of the story by its romantic lyricism and, most of all, the spacious humanity of its love for its characters.

Parents should know that this film includes very mature material: bullying, brutality, drug dealing and drug abuse, very strong language including homophobic slurs, sexual references and explicit sexual situations.

Family discussion: Why does the main character have a different name in each chapter? What do you think happened to Juan?

If you like this, try: “Medicine for Melancholy”

Related Tags:


Based on a play Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week GLBTQ and Diversity Race and Diversity
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik