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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Moonlight is a moving coming-of-age drama that deals with intense subjects, including growing up in extreme poverty with a drug-addicted mom, drug dealing, bullying, and prison time. Most importantly, it tells of a young man's discovery of his sexuality in a world in which he feels helpless, out of control, and alone. Scenes include drug use (crack cocaine and weed) and social drinking. Language is strong but not constant; words include "s--t," "f--k," and more. Two scenes hint at sexual activity among teens (both same-sex and opposite-sex); there's no nudity, but it's clear what's happening. Themes include compassion and perseverance, and, ultimately, the movie's message is a hopeful one: Your circumstances don't define you.
What's the story?
MOONLIGHT follows the very rough life of its central character, known at various ages as Little (Alex R. Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders), and Black (Trevante Rhoses). In elementary school, kids make fun of him, never knowing what to make of a shy but defiant little boy. High school is even worse. Thank goodness for Kevin (Andre Holland), who befriends young Little and seems to accept him as he is. As does Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who brings unexpected kindness and tenderness to Little's life, with the help of his girlfriend, Teresa. But, as Little/Chiron gets older, it becomes more difficult for him. High school proves to be extremely tough, especially since his drug-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is much, much worse. His friendship with Kevin and a shared discovery about their identities sees him through, but it also leads to a physical confrontation that alters Chiron's life forever. Fast-forward to adulthood, and both Chiron -- who now goes by Black -- and Kevin meet up once more.
Is it any good?
It's difficult to distill the power, grace, and grit that make this drama so unforgettable. Anchored by profoundly stunning performances from the entire ensemble, Moonlight manages successfully to be so many things at once -- a tough coming-of-age movie set in a rough part of Miami, an inspiring tale of a child so resourceful that he finds the light in the darkest of worlds, and a story of love and friendship. From the opening moments, it's clear that director Barry Jenkins is the capable captain of this ship, steering it through three main sections of Chiron's life. There's nothing at all contrived about it; the structure serves to illuminate the three stages of Chiron's life while ensuring that they're all connected.
The power of this movie is in how it strips all its characters of cliches, even if the situations they face have been seen in cinema many times before. The addict mom who barely takes care of her son is also a mom who loves him deeply; the drug dealer who kindly takes interest in a lost child can also be the intimidating criminal; and the pumped-up twentysomething ex-con can also be a closeted gay man who longs for love. Bravo to Jenkins for juggling all of this beautifully. Moonlight is a beacon for those still trying to figure out who they are and how to become that person -- as well as for those who've already undergone that very difficult journey and come out on the other side. It's a triumph.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Chiron/Little/Black and how Moonlight depicts the challenges he faces growing up. Is the movie respectful of and empathetic to his situation? Does it give viewers a deeper understanding of the social and economic forces that shape his life?
Chiron is frequently a target for bullies at the various schools he attends. How does the film handle the subject of bullying? How did Chiron's circumstances shape the man he becomes?
How is drug use portrayed in the movie? What role do drugs play in Chiron's life, and in the life of those around him? How does it impact their futures?
- In theaters: October 21, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: February 28, 2017
- Cast: Naomie Harris, Andre Holland, Mahershala Ali
- Director: Barry Jenkins
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High school
- Character strengths: Compassion, Perseverance
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
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