Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Moonlight Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Heartbreaking, mature, unforgettable coming-of-age drama.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 14 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Your circumstances don't define you. And if you're lucky enough to find love, it may help you rise above a difficult beginning. Themes include compassion and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of the characters are complicated. But that complication includes strengths. For example, young Little's determination to find role models despite being surrounded by neglect and violence. Also, Juan watching a kid who's not his own (a surprising act of kindness from a drug dealer). And Little Kevin's compassion for a peer who doesn't seem to be welcome in his social circle. 


Not much gore, but plenty of menace. The characters are growing up in a drug-infested neighborhood where it's not clear who's an ally and who's an enemy. There are fist fights (one of which results in a bloody face), guns are drawn, and a drug-addled mother screams at her young child. One character attacks a classmate with a chair; schoolyard fights erupt and explode quickly into bullying, stark violence, and more.


References to sexual acts; in a dream sequence, a teen boy appears to be having sex with his girlfriend (it's clear what's happening, but viewers don't see any nudity). Two young men make out (and more), though, again, we don't see much. 


Frequent use of everything from "damn" to "hell," "s--t," "d--k," "bitch," and "f--k."


Mentions include Chef Boyardee and Spaghetti-Os.  

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and pot-smoking by underage boys. One character is shown freebasing crack cocaine. Later, two men share bottles of wine.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byJohn D. December 2, 2019

Please don't listen to parents who give this movie a false rating

Yes, there are scenes in this movie not suitable for kids of a certain age. There are scenes of violence and raw bullying that can be gruesome and be on a perso... Continue reading
Adult Written bymyopinionisbest May 23, 2017

Great mature movie

Moonlight tackles themes like homosexuality, coming of age, and dysfunctional families in a realistic and respectful way. The characters are flawed but still st... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bysavagesquad October 14, 2017
Teen, 14 years old Written bypattybateman April 18, 2021

best A24 movie

A good portrait of a life of a black gay person. The film talks about finding your own identity and not letting society force one on you.
There is swearing (f*... Continue reading

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?

  • How does the movie convey themes of compassion and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate