Although 2016 kicked off with the underwhelming The Birth of a Nation poised as the "great black hope" of indie film, this gentle three-part drama about a closeted gay man – depicting him as a child, then as a teenager, and finally as an adult – came out of nowhere to blow everyone away, subverting all preconceptions about both black cinema and gay cinema in the process.
Moonlight's wisp of a plot concerns Chiron, a painfully shy kid growing up in a rough part of Miami, and his ambiguous relationship with his friend Kevin, who might just be the love of his life. Yet it owes less to Brokeback Mountain or to, say, The Wire – although drug dealers and poverty do factor into the storyline – than it does to the hangout movies of Richard Linklater and the swoony romances of Wong Kar Wai. Ultimately, Moonlight lives in a space all its own.
The three actors playing Chiron at the various stages of his life are perfect, bolstered by a fine supporting cast, assured camerawork by director Barry Jenkins and DP James Laxton, and an especially gorgeous if sparingly-used score by Nicholas Britell.
As an examination of the pressures of modern black masculinity, Moonlight is both sad and hopeful, universal and personal. It's a special film, as haunting and delicate as its title. Don't miss it.