Candice Tan
by Candice Tan

We all know that this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture was a bit of a debacle. While most people were shocked, but amused, at the Steve Harvey-esque mistake at the biggest star studded event on the Hollywood calendar, there seemed to be a consensus – at least on social media – that Barry Jenkin’s melancholy Moonlight was more deserving of the statue than Damien Chazelle’s glittery La La Land. And I totally agree. This unconventional coming-of-age film about a black man dealing with issues of identity and sexuality is unconventional, at times uncomfortable, but ultimately enthralling – it should be on everyone’s ‘To Watch’ list, if not already. La La Land, you were great, but Moonlight had to win.

Director Barry Jenkins' emotional moment after Moonlight became Best Picture winner

The story itself is absolutely engaging, divided into three distinctive stages of the protagonist Chiron’s life. From when he was known as 'Little’, a young child ignorant about the taunts other kids hurled at him. Then as a teenager, he is ‘Chiron’, still being bullied and feeling conflicted about who he is and who he connects with. Finally, we meet ‘Black’, an adult Chiron who is pushing drugs and seeking closure and achieving self-realisation. Throughout this triptych of his life, we meet recurring characters, such as his abusive and drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris) to the imposing Juan (Mahershala Ali), who is the closest to being a father figure to a young and naive Chiron. Based on a semi-autobiographical place by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight can be characterised as many things. To some, it is a film about the African American experience in modern times, while to others, it might be a film about LGBT issues, drug addiction or lack of parental figures. The richness of Moonlight is that it deftly encompasses all of these within the broader themes of sexuality, love and identity. 

Although it ultimately won the top award of the night, Moonlight was not exactly Oscar bait. The story was unusual and the cast were predominantly unknown and first time black actors. But still, it prevailed. In recognition of this, here are three other interesting facts about this Oscar-winning film. 

Moonlight had many firsts 
Perhaps one of the reasons why the reactions to the Moonlight win were of shock and surprise – beyond the envelope mix up – was that the film just didn’t seem like the type of film which would win Best Picture. Because it did, many firsts were achieved. For one thing, it became the first film with an all-black cast to win the Best Picture Award. Also, it was the first for a film about LGBT issues to win the highly-prized accolade. Ali was also the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar and film editor Joi McMillon was the first black woman to be nominated for an editing Oscar. So, firsts all ‘round.

Barry Jenkins Revisit His Hometown


Déjà vu?
Films buffs out there may notice the similarities between the direction and cinematography of Moonlight with the work of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai. Several elements of the film, including the pace, framing, colour schemes and soundtrack of certain scenes have been argued to be heavily inspired by the Hong Kong new wave. Some fans have even gone to the lengths of creating scene by scene comparisons in order to show the resemblances between works. Certainly, Director Barry Jenkins has voiced his admiration and respect for Asian cinema, particularly Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, and it shows in Moonlight.

Homage to Moonlight and Wong Kar-wai 

Thanks to Brad Pitt
Without Brad Pitt and his Plan B Entertainment production company, Moonlight may not have been made, or at least not given as much room to breathe as it had. In a chance meeting with Pitt while moderating a Q&A session after a screening of 12 Years A Slave (another Oscar Best Picture), Jenkins was able to secure finance for the film as Pitt loved the story. On top of that, despite having the no-name cast and being an unconventional arthouse and ultimately difficult-to-market flick, the production team assured Jenkins that he should focus on telling the story he wanted to. In the end, I think we can all say it was worth it. So, thanks Brad