'Moonlight's' Rollercoaster Ride to a Best Picture Win


School of Communications and Media Technologies student Kiyomi Mitsuda interviewing Moonlight director Barry Jenkins in 2016. Image courtesy of Kiyomi Mitsuda.

Little. Black. Chiron. These are the three parts that make up the underdog movie of the year, Moonlight.

Moonlight follows a young African-American boy named Chiron in the projects just outside of Miami, Florida. The film focuses on how Chiron deals with his mother, who has a crack addiction, his struggles with his sexuality in an African-American society and growing up not knowing exactly who he is.

Moonlight was originated as a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McCraney and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins attended the same schools growing up, but did not know each other until the making of the film. Jenkins had not been back to Liberty City since he left for college at Florida State University, so when they started to film in his hometown, it was as if he was going back in time for him. 

Although Moonlight does reflect some of Jenkin’s life—coming from a rundown home and a mother who was a drug addict—it is not a biographical piece. Jenkins said in an interview with Urban Knights Update that “I kinda just felt it was a story that I could relate to. And the place that we grew up, you don’t see a lot of stories about characters who are from Liberty City, this neighborhood in Miami. Right away I was just drawn to it.” 

The film was released in San Francisco on Oct. 28, 2016, but it was already creating buzz when it took the Toronto Film Festival by storm. Following praise from festival attendees and film critics, alike, word started to spread about Moonlight. But what really got the ball rolling was the film picking up six Golden Globe nominations: Best Original Score (Nicholas Britell), Best Screenplay (Barry Jenkins), Best Director (Barry Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Drama Motion Picture. The film ended up taking home just one award that evening, being the top prize for Best Drama Motion Picture. 

The following month, Moonlight headed to the 2017 Oscars with eight nominations, including Best Picture. The film went on to beat La La Land, although the announcement happened in the most confusing way.  

Due to a miscommunication, it was originally announced on live TV that La La Land had won Best Picture, which was quickly learned to be a mistake, and Moonlight was announced as the night’s winner of the coveted Oscar. Additionally, Mahershala Ali won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and Jenkins and McCraney won Best Adapted Screenplay. 

What makes Moonlight unique and tugs at your heart-strings is that it is an everyday story that nobody talks about. Jenkins “hopes that people will see that the world is a bit smaller than we think it is, and that we are not so different despite the fact that you’re from Mill Valley and I am from Liberty City.” 

Moonlight is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, Amazon Video and iTunes.