To state simply, Moonlight deserves to win the Oscar for best picture. In a year marred by contentious politics, filmmakers took the first step toward transformative storytelling with unique, compelling and groundbreaking features. And while Manchester by the Sea and La La Land are no exception to this trend, Barry Jenkins’ breakout hit Moonlight artistically tells an honest and touching story.
Though the film is an adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Jenkins transformed the story into a visually arresting work. Moonlight examines themes of homosexuality and masculinity through the lens of protagonist Chiron — a gay African American man who grows up in the face of bullying, poverty and abuse from his drug-addicted mother.
Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and the various portrayals of Chiron and Kevin successfully tell a multi-faceted, heartbreaking story — one that resonates with me, and with so many young men in the world struggling to grapple with their identities. And as muted and silent as the film feels at times, it perfectly encapsulates Chiron’s burying of his emotions and his pain. Moonlight begs the question of whether true storytelling requires a happy ending, because in the end, reality can be bittersweet.
There is no doubt that Jenkins’ direction contributed greatly to the masterpiece; he plays with ordinary settings like a crack house to create a breathtaking image that leaves viewers immersed in Chiron’s blue (and black) world.
Moonlight is not only an artistic masterpiece, but also a beacon of hope for the changing film industry. As with its fellow contender La La Land, Moonlight is a film that has flipped Hollywood upside down as an artistic reflection of real-life stories. However, it is also one that has sparked many conversations — ones that mark the importance of diversity in media, and that also recognize the need to tell stories that transcend the silver screen.
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In a sea of exquisite Best Picture nominees, Hidden Figures deserves to take home the Academy Award. The film follows the behind-the-scenes story of African American mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) as they aim to send the first men into space for NASA in the 1960s. With the Civil Rights Movement as the backdrop, Hidden Figures serves as the perfect clapback to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has plagued the Academy for the past two years.
Moreover, during a time when the majority of main characters on screen are still white men, Hidden Figures shatters the patriarchy by demonstrating that heroes can be brilliant women of color. A series of scenes illustrated their inspiring geniusness: Katherine whizzes through the calculations to send astronaut John Glenn to space, leaving the other NASA officials with their mouths agape. Dorothy leads her team to develop an advanced programming language that transformed the landscape of computation at NASA. Mary challenges the courts to win over her right to become NASA’s first black female engineer.
Ultimately, films are a direct reflection of the current cultural milieu, and it is because of this that Best Picture winners carry immense weight. We live in an era when the unity of our nation hangs in limbo, so the Best Picture embraces our differences. La La Land will probably win the Oscar for its musical ingenuity and Emma Stone’s charm, but Hidden Figures — more than just a feel-good movie about three little women that could — scintillates beyond just this year.
With the raving reviews La La Land received, I was hesitant to watch the movie in early December; I even avoided the YouTube and Spotify commercials that kept popping up, until I heard the first song of the musical, “Another Day of Sun.” I am a shameless fan of musicals — on and off Broadway — and Justin Hurwitz’s score essentially sold me the movie.
Nevertheless, without the music, the vibrant colors and spontaneous ballroom dancing, I don’t think La La Land would have a chance at Best Picture compared to Moonlight’s touching story and Hidden Figures’ empowering message. But, La La Land offers its audience the full package: It was a story of love and loss in the City of Angels that stole the hearts of lovers and dreamers alike, as they followed Mia and Sebastian on their winding journey. Justin Hurwitz’s phenomenal, dynamic score brought their journey to life on the bright technicolor screen. But take away the score, or replace it with one less powerful, and the movie loses most of its magic.
Although La La Land is most likely to sweep the Awards Sunday night, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight should not be neglected. Moonlight did not rely on a well-known cast or a captivating soundtrack to boost it to acclaim. It is raw and soulfully realistic in its character portrayals.
The movie paints a heartwarming, intimate picture of two gay black men, while giving them a background beyond the “gay” label. Moonlight effectively shatters the unspoken stereotypes of the gay community and black America through its striking message, creating an artful storyline through three stages of its protagonist’s life. Moonlight shines in its cinematography and fosters hope in its love story to audiences of all ages. For these reasons and in my identity as a bisexual woman of color, Moonlight’s message hits home in my heart.
Though the top three movies I watched in 2016 were all foreign and not all are being recognized at the Oscars, I am rooting for Moonlight to win best picture. Moonlight is one of the most original films I have ever seen. 2016 was a year fraught with political tension and in Moonlight we found relief — not through magic or escapism, but through the quiet assurance that movies about non-mainstream America will continue to be told and valued.
Of course, there is no such thing as mainstream or non-mainstream America, but try telling that to homogenous Hollywood. Though it is useless to praise Moonlight only for the strides it makes in diversity (the movie features not one white face in its entire duration) — fortunately, the film sows progress in both art and message. The film spins the viewer out over the course of one gay black man’s life in three phases, from that of a small, bullied boy to a tired man wrapped tightly in his own mute masculinity.
Moonlight breaks your heart but it also fills you with a subtler and more difficult emotion: peace. At its core, Moonlight is about a romance, one so rich and vital that it lasts a lifetime. The film is layered and unexpected, which is more than I can say for La La Land, Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge — three other movies nominated for Best Picture this year.
As someone who plans to pursue a career in this industry, and as someone who grew up in a community where no one else looked like her, I believe above almost anything that films should be judged in two regards: in artistic merit, and in the conversations that they spark. Moonlight vaulted through both components when most movies don’t even had one, and in its quietness it rocketed the potential for what kinds of stories can be told about what sorts of people (all of them) to unparalleled horizons.