Conference Spotlight: The Alchemy of “Moonlight”

By Kelly Tait

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Image from CreativeCommons [Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

In a kind of cinematic alchemy, Moonlight makes viewers’ hearts beat right along with the protagonist’s in a world that is both intrinsically American and foreign to many. The movie drops us deeply into three stages of Chiron’s life—as a ten year old trying to outrun bullies in his impoverished Miami neighborhood, as an adolescent quivering at the possibility of a first kiss, and as a hyper-muscled, achingly lonely adult.

The person who worked this movie magic, screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins, lived in the neighborhood portrayed in the film, as did Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of the original source material, an unproduced play called “In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue.” Their real-world experiences give veracity to the setting and the story.

Jenkins’ phenomenal ability to portray emotion through imagery and sound plus strong acting performances all around have created an intensely personal onscreen experience that illuminates universal themes. Along with raising issues such as ethnicity, socio-economics, sexual identity, and substance abuse, the movie perhaps most affectingly shows the impact of adults in children’s lives.

Moonlight has been called a master class in filmmaking. It won three 2017 Academy Awards—Best Picture, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Best Supporting Actor—and was nominated for five more. As A. O. Scott said in his review of the film in the New York Times (10/20/16) “‘Moonlight’ is both a disarmingly, at times almost unbearably personal film and an urgent social document, a hard look at American reality and a poem written in light, music and vivid human faces.”

Join us at NASJE’s Annual Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, September 10-13, for a lively look at how judicial branch educators can use this gritty, beautiful movie to open the door to discussions of identity, social issues, and the role of the justice system.

Watch the trailer below.